It never pays to compare one movie to another, but sometimes, especially when it’s a follow-up feature from the same filmmaker, it’s hard not to. In the case of The Son, it’s an especially egregious choice, since it makes an already bad film worse. In every way that The Father was powerful yet subtle, effecting yet never over the top, The Son is the opposite. It truly is almost incompressible that the same creative team made both flicks. This is not just one of the most disappointing works of the year, but it comes very close to just being an out and out bad movie. As it stands, it’s so far from being a good one that it’s downright shocking. Considering its pedigree and the early on hopes for it, it’s an incredibly large fall from grace.
The Son is the sort of film that pretends it exists in the real world, but none of its characters even come close to appearing like human beings. The longer it goes on, the more you just watch with your mouth agape, wondering how it all went so wrong. If it weren’t for the cast giving it their all, one can only imagine how poorly this would have turned out.
Peter (Hugh Jackman) has gotten a second chance at happiness. Living a busy but fulfilling life with his new partner Beth (Vanessa Kirby) and their baby, all seems well. That’s thrown into major disarray when his ex-wife Kate (Laura Dern) turns up with one day with troubling news about their teenage son, Nicholas (Zen McGrath). He’s been having trouble at school and just hasn’t been attending of late. Asking what’s wrong, Nicholas is cagey with Peter, but asks to live with him. He obliges, hoping for an instant fix. That’s not the case.
As Peter watches Nicholas struggle, he maintains a sense of optimism, all while Beth suspects something much worse is going on. The more Nicholas seems to backtrack, the more Peter thinks back to happier times. Between a visit to his father (Anthony Hopkins), petty squabbling, and some desperate acts, it becomes clear that just hoping for change won’t matter one bit. Then again, no one here seems to have any clue what’s happening, even when a doctor eventually lays it out in front of them.
This cast does their best, but the material is just not up to snuff. With one exception, the performances at least are fine. Unfortunately, young Zen McGrath is surprisingly bad, which is never fun to say. His line deliveries leave much to be desired. Frankly, the best in show is Anthony Hopkins, showing up in one scene to suggest a better film than we get. Hugh Jackman and Vanessa Kirby grasp at the straws of dimension in their characters, while Laura Dern is completely wasted. The movie has the actors and actresses, but has no idea what to do with them. Supporting players include William Hope, Hugh Quarshie, and more.
Filmmaker Florian Zeller, along with his co-writer Christopher Hampton, pretty much do the opposite here with The Son that they did with The Father. Curiously, too, considering the latter won them an Academy Award. Hans Zimmer‘s score is fine, but that’s about the only aspect here that comes out unscathed. It looks ugly, the pacing is awful, and every single moment is clumsily telegraphed. By the time the credits role, you’ll be almost stunned that you saw that story told in that manner by Hampton and Zeller.
The Son is not a good film, plain and simple. An epic slog, it often makes you roll your eyes, as opposed to the intended hope of making them water. Here’s hoping that this was a fluke, since Zeller’s last outing suggested amazing promise. None of that is realized with The Son, unfortunately.