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THE SON (2022) l  Elevation Pictures  |  December 2022

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby, Zen McGrath, Anthony Hopkins

Director: Florian Zeller

Hugh Jackman, Laura Dern, and Anthony Hopkins star in The Father director Florian Zeller’s immersive drama about a family struggling to support a teenager in the throes of a mental health crisis.


TIFF REVIEW BY: Darren Zakus

The Son is another excellent and emotionally devastating film from writer director Florian Zeller, this time exploring the topic of teenage mental illness with an all star cast led by a sensational Hugh Jackman. 


With his first film The Father, Zeller destroyed audiences across the globe as we all watched Anthony Hopkins’s character slowly lose his mind to dementia, which gained Hopkins his second Academy Award. So when Zeller announced his second film, also based on a stage play he had written, I immediately got excited for it. Then when it was announced the cast would be led by Hugh Jackman and feature Laura Dern, Vanessa Kirby and Anthony Hopkins, I knew this was going to be a must see second film from Zeller. And while audiences have been mixed about The Son, it emotionally destroyed me and left me absolutely broken after the North American premiere on Monday night. 


The film revolves around Peter, a man who has left his previous wife, Kate, and married a younger woman, Beth, and has a newborn baby with her. But Peter has a teenage son, Nicholas, from his previous marriage, who shows up on his doorstep with Kate when Nicolas begins to go through some challenging times. From there, Zeller explores the effects of mental illness and depression on teenagers and the ripple effects it has on their family. The writing may be a little on the nose at times, coming across heavy handed, but there is a brutal honesty to the writing that will strike a chord with audiences. During the first two acts, the film dances around the issue as it's from the perspective of Peter, who does not want to admit to himself how dire of a situation he and his family find themselves in. And when Peter does finally see the gravity of the situation, the tone changes in the third act and becomes absolutely gut wrenching and devastating, which left me crying heavily during the film’s final ten minutes. 


At a certain point in the film, you know where the film is going to end, the writing is on the wall and there is no denying it. But, it doesn’t make the ending any more shocking and terrifying to watch as Zeller unleashes a tidal wave of emotions and trauma on the audience. To some it may be emotionally manipulative, but as someone who has known families who have struggled with the same problems depicted in the film, it unfortunately captures the devastating reality of the situation in the most painful way imaginable. Aiding in creating the emotional experience of the film is a brilliant musical score from Hans Zimmer, which captures every single emotion conveyed in the screenplay and the performances, making it one of the best musical scores of the Toronto International Film Festival so far. 


However, this film belongs to Hugh Jackman’s lead performance. For a long time, Jackman has been one of my favourite actors, delivering truly spectacular performances both on screen and on the stage. And with The Son, he may finally get his long overdue Academy Award. He demands your attention from start to finish, creating the emotional devastation of the story as a father struggling to see how truly upset his son is. There is a levity to his performance, making him someone you cannot help but gravitate towards, especially as he deals with his own issues with his father, played with a formidable performance by Hopkins. Though, when push comes to shove and the film enters its emotionally devastating moments, Jackman rips open his soul with his performance and shows a vulnerability and emotional range that we have never seen from him. While the film may be called The Son, it is Jackman who runs away with the film and will emotionally break audiences with his performance. 

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Opposite Jackman is Zen McGrath as Nicholas, and he delivers an excellent performance. Perfectly capturing the tortured mindset of Nicholas, McGrath wears his emotions on his sleeve and delivers a great performance. It may be too forced at times, but he finds the honesty of this young man struggling with his mental health. The majority of his scenes are paired with Jackman, and the two of them are an unstoppable force in this film. I love Laura Dern and she can do no wrong in my mind, and while she brings a warmth and compassionate persona to the film while she is on screen, she is severely underused for the majority of the film. 


It is Vanessa Kirby who gives the memorable supporting performance as Jackman’s new wife. Her character is more involved in the story with Nicholas living with her and Peter, and she goes through the struggle of trying to support her husband through this difficult time while trying to protect her family unit. Kirby gives a beautiful performance that captures the complexity of her character and her situation as she sees the dark path Nicholas is on and fights sto shield her newborn baby from the consequences of that path. She shares her scenes with Jackman, and the two of them have a beautiful connection that leads to some intense and wonderful moments between them. 


Compared to The Father, The Son isn’t nearly as outstanding but delivers the emotional sucker punch you expect from Zeller. Brutally honest and polarizing in its honest and raw depiction of teenage mental illness and the effects it has on the entire family, The Son is another excellent film from Florian Zeller that features one of the finest performances of High Jackman’s career that launches him right into the Oscar race.

RATING: 4 out of 5 

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