Mortensen makes a movie

Veteran actor Viggo Mortensen’s directorial debut is an intense and insightful drama that, sadly, many can relate to. Sadly because it addresses the heartbreak and utter frustration of dealing with dementia in a parent. 

John (Mortensen), a gay man living with his partner (Terry Chen) in California, has brought his ageing father out from rural New York to look for a retirement abode nearer to him. Willis (Lance Henriksen), a mindless bigot on his best days, is in the first stages of dementia and not one to keep his vile opinions to himself. 

The family’s history is conveyed through a complex series of flashbacks in which Willis is played by Sverrir Gudnason. This at first looks like rookie-director overreach but soon coalesces into an effective storytelling tool. A quibble is that the heartbreak of dementia may have been better served had this man once been remotely kind and caring.  But apparently he’s been pretty much a dick all his life.

Not an easy sit, and grating at times, but that’s kind of the point. And the nastiness is balanced by scenes of devastating tenderness. Beautifully edited and shot, this is ultimately a finely drawn character drama and an unpretentious study on the benefits of tolerance, even if it is not returned. 

Mortensen has made a fine film that trusts the intelligence of his audience. Maybe we have another Clint Eastwood here. But the overwhelming reason to see this is the career-best performance by Henriksen. It’s quite astounding. Criminally short appearance by Laura Linney. (112 min)