The cinematic equivalent to a ticking time bomb, The Son is a harrowing, yet enthralling dissection (and cautionary tale) of attentive parenting, strained relationships, and mental health.
When his ex-wife (Laura Dern) shows up at his door with concerns over their son’s (Zen McGrath) troubling behavior, Peter (Hugh Jackman) attempts to be there for the young man while balancing the needs of his current wife (Vanessa Kirby) and infant son, along with his own career ambitions. If ever a film was concocted in a lab for me, it would seem to be The Son, a film with a serious, real-life subject and three of my favorite actors in Jackman, Dern, and Kirby. Florian Zeller’s follow-up to 2020’s The Father features an equally tumultuous plot that is not for the weak of heart; the developments are slow and methodical, yet necessarily so, and increasingly unsettling. Zeller invites viewers into the complicated relationships of the characters and quickly establishes an uneasy atmosphere that I suspect many may identify with in one of the four main players.
Jackman excels in each and every scene, especially those opposite the young McGrath, and has most definitely punched his ticket to be among the nominees for Best Actor at the Oscars. His portrayal of a father attempting to right the wrongs of his past while avoiding the pitfalls of his own childhood are palpably challenging for his character and a roller coaster of emotions for the audience. One pivotal scene sees Peter visiting his father (Anthony Hopkins) that results in a pointed back-and-forth that leads to significant character development for Jackman’s Peter in an impressively short amount of time thanks to the knockout, awards-worthy performance by Hopkins. Dern and Kirby are also incredibly impressive, each tasked with a different mentality when it comes to their characters, yet both showing why they are among the finest working today.
My biggest complaint about this otherwise excellent adaptation of Zeller’s play of the same name is in McGrath’s performance, nay, his casting. There is no denying the young actor’s talent, however his delivery of some of the films more important dialogue failed to rise to the gravity of the moment. Instead, it all was very one note, perhaps intentionally so, an embodiment of his character’s mental state, but it still felt less than it should have been. Additionally, the film takes the time to let the viewer know where Peter is left at the end of the story, yet completely forgets to do the same for Dern’s Kate, a glaring omission.
Still, The Son is an emotional whopper of a film, an important piece of cinema that won’t sit right with many looking for answers, but hopefully stimulate their thoughts for days to come.
The Son hits theaters on January 20th, 2023.