Apart from becoming notable that Anthony Hopkins won the Oscar instead of Chadwick Boseman to a lot of embarrassment, Florian Zeller's The Father remains a shockingly powerful portrait of dementia and the toll is takes on the person with it, and those around them. Following that up then was always going to be tough and yet here Zeller has managed it.
The Son is a little more enigmatic in nature, following middle class Attorney Peter, his second wife Beth and their new son Theo are thrown into conflict when Peter's 17-year-old son Nicholas moves in with them.
Like his first film Zeller is clearly interested in looking at the toll being a loved one of someone with a Neurodivergent issue. There's a reason the first film was called The Father, and this is called The Son. That film was about the pressure and pain Hopkins' ageing Anthony's failing mind put on his daughter Olivia Colman. Here we see a similar riff, this time the confusion that comes from being the parent of someone with mental illness.
Zeller's film this time plays less with the form of setting, not so much dealing in the confusion, but in the emotional space between people. Zen McGrath as Nicholas is at times emotionally blank, not giving much away aside from a cold look here or there and the ongoing pressure it clearly puts on Vanessa Kirby's Beth is interesting to look at what happens when you're suddenly thrust into the position of hand's on step-mother.
The film completely belongs to Hugh Jackman as Peter, his most complete and intense role since Prisoners, this offers him a chance to play his fun charming side, his intense side and the film lovingly looks at his tired, haunted face. Similarly Laura Dern is quietly devastating as Nicholas' mother Kate who cares and fears for her son.
While the cast are all game, the film does at times feel like it's going over similar points and opts for an ending that might very well divide people. It's not the easiest ending to swallow as it dives into the realm of overtly melodramatic, but Zeller clearly has a point to make about the toll being a father, and having regrets, takes on a person and how in the end we are all just people trying to make sense of our own upbringings and trying to rectify those mistakes – a point underlined by a cameo from Anthony Hopkins.
It may prove to be a little too divisive for the acclaim that Zeller's previous film got but as a showcase for Mr Jackman it's a fine addition to the filmography that will linger in the memory for a while.