The film works at its best when navigating how creepy and slippery it is to try to help someone you love who is expressing suicidal thoughts, as well as Sophie’s Choice-style decisions when it comes to to make someone’s medical choices for them, often against their will. “Love won’t be enough,” Nicholas’ doctor tells his parents – a terrifying thing to synthesize when we’re told throughout our lives that love can cure all ills.
It’s a shame, then, that Jackman and Dern overdo their performances a bit, leaning into stage mannerisms that come across as emotionally dishonest and misaligned with McGrath’s more computerized approach. Kirby is pleasantly layered as a younger new bride who seems to be secretly resenting the trouble Nicholas is causing her newborn bubble, but perhaps the film’s best performance comes in the form of a cameo from Anthony Hopkins as Peter’s father, Anthony, in a role almost as sinister as his days as Dr. Lecter.
We see – through Nicholas, Peter and Anthony – three generations of men struggling to speak the same way lingua franca, reflecting generational misconceptions about men’s mental health (Anthony calls today’s young people “whiny cowards”), and the ruinous consequences this can have. That said, The Son’s points are presented in a somewhat simplistic fashion, with an obvious foreshadowing that makes the film’s ending a foregone conclusion. The ending, in particular, lacks gravity as what’s about to happen is fairly obvious – and even when the denouement does arrive, everything smacks of heartbreaking manipulation.
We also feel visually wronged with The Son, which is all the more disappointing when we remember how the excellent design, framing and production direction in The Father helped us feel disoriented and claustrophobic. , like its protagonist suffering from dementia. Here, the use of space feels less sophisticated, with a rather dull color palette of dove gray and chalky blue, and largely uninspiring staging choices. There’s a squeaky, overused, sickening score that saps any dramatic tension, which, coupled with histrionic acting at the end of the film, makes you think how much better a Hugh Jackman performance was as a man whose life is on the verge of ruin. in 2019, a bad education cruelly underestimated.
That’s not to say The Son is an outright disaster, or even anything resembling gaudy Oscar bait: it’s a flawed movie with a kind heart, but a far less impressive offspring of The Father’s garrulous triumph. Like father, like son? Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case.
Do you like movies and TV? Rejoin BBC Culture Film and TV Club on Facebook, a community of film lovers from all over the world.
If you want to comment on this story or anything else you’ve seen on BBC Culture, head over to our Facebook page or send us a message on Twitter.
And if you liked this story, sign up for the weekly bbc.com features newsletter, called The Essential List. A handpicked selection of stories from BBC Future, Culture, Worklife and Travel, delivered to your inbox every Friday.