Small Screen Berkeley: ‘The Father’ and ‘The Mole Agent’

83-year-old Anthony Hopkins delivers one of the best performances of the year in ‘The Father,’ while another octogenarian, Sergio Chamy, shines in ‘The Mole Agent’ documentary.

The Father. Photo: Courtesy Sony Classics

I generally find Anthony Hopkins overwrought and hammy on screen (hello, Hannibal Lector!), but he’s more than capable of delivering the goods under optimal circumstances. Consider as proof his superb performance as the title character in Julie Taymor’s outstanding Shakespeare adaptation Titus (1999) and his restrained turn as Dr. Frederick Treves in David Lynch’s The Elephant Man (1980).

Consequently, my anticipation for The Father — on the surface, a classic example of Oscar-bait seemingly designed with easily impressed Academy voters in mind — was minimal. Turns out I was completely wrong: the 83-year-old Hopkins delivers one of the best performances of the year, and should probably be considered the favorite to win next month’s Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role gong (though if Steven Yeun wins, I won’t complain).

Based on Florian Zeller’s play of the same name (and adapted for the screen and directed by the playwright), The Father – now streaming via Rialto Cinemas Elmwood — provides yet another cinematic examination of the toll taken by Alzheimers disease. Though the topic isn’t a fresh one Zeller approaches it from a different direction, telling his story from the perspective of a stricken elder rather than from the perspective of their grieving relatives.

Hopkins takes center stage as Anthony (considering how badly Zeller wanted him to play The Father, this is unlikely to be a coincidence), a retiree running out the string in his posh Maida Vale flat. Daughter Anne (Olivia Colman, also Oscar-nominated) has been trying to hire a carer for her ailing dad before she relocates to Paris; dad is having none of it, sending successive social workers fleeing in despair at his rudeness and all-around bad behavior.


As we see things play out through Anthony’s eyes we become aware of the terrifying, shape-shifting shadows that Alzheimers casts upon its victims. Olivia Williams, Mark Gattis, and Rufus Sewell co-star as characters who drift  in and out of Anthony’s life as the walls close in on him, his reality becoming increasingly disjointed and frightening.

Zeller waited two years for Hopkins to sign on the dotted line, and his faith in the actor has been rewarded. While an Oscar nomination isn’t always a hallmark of quality, The Father is deserving of recognition: not quite as unnerving as Roman Polanski’s Repulsion (1965),  it’s nonetheless a startling and uncomfortable depiction of a mind in decay.

Infiltrating a nursing home in ‘The Mole Agent’

The Mole Agent. Photo: Courtesy Roxie Theater

Maite Alberdi’s documentary El Agente Topo (The Mole Agent, streaming via the Virtual Roxie) also focuses on an octogenarian, but this one — Chilean Sergio Chamy — is still sharp as a tack. The film follows Sergio as he infiltrates a nursing home on behalf of a private investigator to find out if a client’s parent is being mistreated by staff.

His assignment requires a certain degree of technical competence, as Sergio must submit daily reports to his handler via cell phone and record events with a micro camera concealed in his heavy-framed glasses. He must also operate under the watchful eye of Alberdi’s crew, who are hidden in plain sight while ostensibly shooting an above-board doc about the establishment.

The incredibly dapper Sergio immediately becomes a hit with the home’s female residents, who begin to let down their guard around him and — in some cases — jockey for his favors and attention. Will Sergio get the goods on the nursing home’s administrators? You’ll have to buy a ticket to find out!