New to UK cinemas from Friday is the hard-hitting psychological drama, The Son. The movie – from director Florian Zeller – stars Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, and Anthony Hopkins, and tells the story of a relationship between an absentee father and his severely depressed son.
In the movie, Jackman takes on the role of Peter Miller. Peter has recently married his second wife, Beth, has settled down with her and their new born son, and is busy with his career.
However, when Peter married Beth, he stepped away from his previous relationship with Kate, as well as his 17-year-old son, Nicholas. He still keeps in touch, but only at a distance, because he has become caught up with his new life and responsibilities.
But what Peter is not aware of, is the emotional and mental damage that his failed marriage has had on Nicholas. Since his father moved away and remarried, Nicholas has developed depression and abandonment issues, which have begun to consume his life.
After being made aware of the problems Nicholas is dealing with, Peter agrees to house his son for the foreseeable future. He hopes that time spent with Nicholas will help him overcome his mental health struggles, and in the process will bring them closer together.
Before I move forward with this review, I should point out that The Son had its world premiere at the Venice International Film Festival back in September 2022, before going on general release in the US in January 2023 – so it has been around for a little while now. The reason I’m only just getting around to reviewing this picture, is because it has only just arrived in the UK, as we are still playing a bit of catch up with our cinema releases over here.
The other thing to point out is that The Son is based on Florian Zeller’s play, Le Fils, and is a very loose prequel to the 2020 Anthony Hopkins-led drama, The Father. I say it is “a very loose prequel” because the only crossover between the two films is the inclusion of Hopkins’ character, who appears briefly in The Son, playing the role of Peter’s father.
If you’ve not watched The Father, it will not impact your experience with The Son. All you need to know is that both films operate within the same universe, and both can be viewed as standalone pieces.
OK, so now that’s all out of the way, what about The Son? Is it worth you investing a couple of hours of your time into this picture?
The simple answer is ‘yes’, but it is a ‘yes’ with a caveat. The caveat is that you need to be prepared to take on an emotionally charged picture, which deals with some very heavy material, features in-depth discussions and depictions of mental health issues, trauma, and suicide, and has a sombre tone throughout, which only gets darker as the film progresses.
In short, what I am essentially trying to say is, The Son will not be for everyone, and those who don’t feel they have the emotional energy for a movie like this, are best giving a miss. However way you cut it, The Son is a dark, bleak movie, which at times is mentally draining, and hard going.
This isn’t the sort of movie that you watch on a Saturday night, after a terrible week at work. It is a film that wants you to give yourself over to it; wants you to be prepared for some painful, heart-breaking scenes; and expects you to come away feeling like you went on a journey you’re not sure you needed.
If this isn’t for you, then that is fine. It is upsetting stuff, and some audiences simply don’t want that.
But for those who are prepared to take it on, The Son is a powerful drama. It is an intoxicating picture, which isn’t afraid to delve deep into darkness, and it boasts one of Hugh Jackman’s best performances.
As with The Father, The Son is largely built around one character – in this case, Peter. The movie looks at the way in which he interacts with his family, with a specific focus on his relationship with his son, and details his thoughts and feelings.
The Son is very much about the choices in which Peter has made in life, and how those have impacted Nicholas. Peter has made mistakes, but he’s not a bad person, and The Son looks to explore the way in which his actions and motivations have a long-lasting effect.
Every minute of his story is brought to the screen through superb acting from Jackman. Jackman is an ever-dependable actor, who never delivers a poor performance, but here he really out does himself and fills Peter with depth and warmth.
There is a great deal of self-reflection in The Son, and at times it feels as if Jackman brings parts of himself to the role. As a father, and a successful actor who has to travel all over the world for work, there will have been times where he has missed key moments in the lives of his children, and I expect Jackman has tapped into this.
The emotions he delivers in this film feel genuine, as if he is more than aware that his actions have consequences. This performance definitely feels like Jackman understands this character inside and out, and that is reflected on screen.
Outside of what Jackman brings to the movie, The Son features a compelling story about mental health, the difficulties of living with dark thoughts, and the difficulties of living with someone living with dark thoughts. Nicholas – as played by Zen McGrath – treads a troubled path throughout the film, and it is one filled with authenticity.
With Nicholas, director Florian Zeller doesn’t gloss over his mental health struggles, nor does he present a paper-thin picture of miraculous cures or interventions. Instead, he presents a raw, unfiltered account about a boy’s battles with his inner demons.
Perhaps more importantly, Zeller also takes the right amount of time needed to deliver Nicholas’ story. The tale being told between Peter and Nicholas is a slow-burning one, and this may frustrate some audiences, but it is given enough room to breath and play out as required, and this is what makes it so strong.
If I have any real criticisms of The Son, they are mostly minor things. At times I do feel the movie feels a bit like a play, with some scenes looking as if they were lifted directly from the stage version of this story, and I do feel a couple of lighter moments would have helped carry some of the more solemn material – but these are minor niggles.
So long as you are willing to spend the time, and you understand this is going to be a difficult watch, The Son is an excellent movie. It handles its subject matter with care and respect, and manages to land all of its key conversations and themes with conviction.
Thank you for taking the time to read this review on It’s A Stampede!. For more reviews, check out the recommended reads below.
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