The Son

Review by Rich Cline | 3/5

The Son
dir Florian Zeller
scr Florian Zeller, Christopher Hampton
prd Florian Zeller, Iain Canning, Karl Hartman, Joanna Laurie, Emile Sherman, Christophe Spadone
with Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, Anthony Hopkins, Hugh Quarshie, William Hope, Akie Kotabe, Isaura Barbe-Brown, Danielle Lewis, Erick Hayden, Shin-Fei Chen
release US 11.Nov.22
22/UK Film4 2h03

dern kirby hopkins
venice film fest
london film fest

Is it streaming?

jackman and mcgrath
After The Father, writer-director Florian Zeller adapts another of his thorny plays for the big screen, this time about parents trying to help a troubled teen son. It's a dark story, with rare moments of lightness as characters struggle with elusive ideas that defeat almost everybody. Clinical depression is an important topic to dramatise, although it also means that the plot needs to retain a nagging level of uncertainty.
In New York, Kate (Dern) is at the end of her tether with her 17-year-old son Nicholas (McGrath), so she asks high-flying lawyer ex-husband Peter (Jackman) to let Nicholas move in with him, his new wife Beth (Kirby) and their infant son. Kate is hoping the change will encourage him to stop skipping classes. But Nicholas isn't coping with life, and doesn't know why. While he seems to be improving with a new school and therapist, there are signs that something is still very badly wrong, from a general aimlessness to incidents of self-harm.
As this situation develops, we can't help but wait for a major incident. And indeed, the trajectory of the narrative proves to be both predictable and as manipulative as Nicholas is with his parents. This isn't to say that it belittles the importance of the central theme, which is treated with resonant urgency and some hugely harrowing emotions. And while Zeller offers too many hints about where this is heading, it's the vivid performances that maintain our interest.

Jackman gives an often wrenching turn as a successful man who wants the best for his son, even as he finds himself applying the same pressures as his distant father (Hopkins in a sizzling cameo). His scenes with Dern and Kirby bristle with powerful feelings, and both actresses put their souls into underwritten characters. McGrath has an especially difficult role as a teen who's adept at play-acting. While he has strong presence, he struggles to bridge the more overtly emotional scenes.

Zeller's direction is sleek and observant, prowling around the actors to let them bring out the underlying thoughts and sensitivities. Even so, the filmmaking is so relentlessly serious that it sometimes feels pushy. Indeed, there's never a moment in which we're unsure what to think about any of the questions that are raised. And this topic demands a more open-minded approach, as it were. In this case, the right decision is painfully clear, which basically allows us to dodge the plot's final wallop.

cert 15 themes, language, violence 7.Sep.22 vff

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© 2022 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall