Anyone who knows me knows I love films. Father’s Day got me thinking about how differently dads are portrayed in film. The whole gamut of types is gallantly displayed in celluloid for us to admire, hate, empathize with or fear. Some of the more notable dads in film may be worth a few hours of your time this Father’s Day.
Mrs. Doubtfire – Robin Williams gives a zany performance as a man desperate to be close to his kids when his wife asks for a divorce. Donning feminine costumes and going to great lengths to protect his identity, he embodies the devotion we expect of our fathers.
Liar, Liar, – Jim Carrey finds himself on the wrong end of a divorce that will cost him his relationship with his son if he doesn’t straighten up and fly right. Notorious for lying, he falls under the spell of his son’s birthday wish and has to tell the truth. While painful, he learns what being a good dad is about.
The Birdcage – Robin Williams and Nathan Lane play a gay couple who’ve raised a son. Their son is engaged to a girl from a political, conservative family and it’s time for them to meet. Their first effort is to hide the “mommy” of the couple and bring in the young man’s biological mother for the evening. Then they decide to try to “man up” Lane’s character which is hopeless. Finally they let the chips fall where they may and learn that acceptance and truth are the best way to go.
Mr. Mom – Michael Keaton plays Jack, the dad, who loses his job. Dad stays home to tend the kids and the house while his wife goes back to work. Dad soon finds out the life of a stay-at-home mom is no picnic. He forges a new relationship with his kids, organizes coupon poker with the other at-home moms and realizes just what his wife and kids mean to him.
Nine Months – Hugh Grant plays Samuel Faulkner, the perpetual bachelor ,who finds himself about to become a father. Terrified of commitment, he makes half-hearted attempts at being supportive. He and his girlfriend break up and the realization of what is at stake becomes clear. Tom Arnold and Joan Cusack add comedy as a married couple with monsters for children who torment Samuel.
Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade – Still my favorite of the Indiana Jones series, Sean Connery steals the movie from Harrison Ford by playing his curmudgeonly father. The two are so similar that they end of verbally sparring constantly, making for memorable movie magic.
The Godfather – Marlon Brando portrays a loving yet despicable father as he drags his three sons into the underworld life of the Mafia. He attempts to keep his youngest son out of the “family business”, wanting to save at least one of them but circumstances undermine his plans. In spite of the life he has chosen for his family, there is no doubt that his family loves him deeply.
Kramer Vs. Kramer – Dustin Hoffman is blown away by his wife’s desire to “find herself”. She has become lost in being mother to their son and wife to him and wants more of her life. She leaves him to care for their son. Totally unprepared and unskilled Kramer must figure out how to do everything from making breakfast and clothing the child to juggling the responsibilities of home and career. Learning to date as a single parent and to put someone else’s needs before his own, Kramer learns what fatherhood means.
John Q – Denzel Washington takes us on the roller coaster ride of lifetime as a father battling to find a way to save his dying son. Laid off from his job and without adequate insurance benefits, John is unable to provide the funds needed to pay for a heart transplant. In desperation, he takes the hospital emergency room hostage and demands treatment for his son, even if it means killing himself to provide the heart. Now that’s a dad!
I am sam – Sean Penn gives one of his finest performances as a mentally handicapped man left to raise a baby on his own. Sam does a fine job until the child grows old enough to be smarter than he is. The authorities, seeking what’s best Lucy, take his daughter away and Sam must hire an attorney to fight for custody. Sam is the epitome of fatherly love, wanting only what’s best for Lucy no matter how simple it is.
The Great Santini – Robert Duvall in one of his most memorable roles as a tough-as-nails marine pilot. Competitive to a fault and unable to share his emotions, The Great Santini’s children fear him more than love him. Set during a time of racial tension, the relationship between the eldest son and the father is the center point of the story.
Man of a Thousand Faces – James Cagney portrays actor Lon Chaney in a biography of the latter’s life. Son of deaf parents, Chaney worries when his own son is born that the malady may be passed on. His unfaithful wife leaves him and he must raise his son alone while trying to build a career in a time less supportive of single dads.
Life As A House – Kevin Kline is George Monroe, terminal cancer patient and estranged father. He decides to right the wrongs of his life and takes his son in with him for the summer as they build a house together. The house takes on meanings for each of them and the quest to finish it before George dies reinforces the newly forged bond between father and son.
October Sky – Jake Gyllenhaal portrays Homer Hickam Jr, a teenage rocket enthusiast and son of the man who manages the town’s only coal mine. The two don’t see eye to eye and buck heads at every chance. They must come to respect and understand each other if they are ever to breach the chasm that grows between them.
Men of Action
Taken – Liam Neesonis Bryan Mills, former spy, whose daughter has been kidnapped while on vacation n Paris and forced into the world of sex slavery. With little to go on but his experience and skill, Mills sets out to find his daughter and her friend. The body count grows high and fast. High speed car chases, European scenery and a mission only a father could undertake make this movie one to see.
Road to Perdition – Tom Hanks as a gangster on the run with his only surviving son after the mob boss he works for orders a hit on the boy. It seems the boy saw more than he should have and the hit on him takes his brother and mother out of the picture. Now the father, wanting to settle the score, must make sure his son is safe and well cared first.
Frequency – Dennis Quaid plays daddy to Jim Caviezel across time. Frank Sullivan was killed fighting a fire and his son was never the same. The odd appearance of a Northern Lights-type phenomenon causes a short wave radio frequency that allows the two men to talk to each other. Over several days and through a series of conversations the two discover their relationship and the son tries to prevent the father’s death, bringing new consequences to contend with.
The Patriot – Mel Gibson is Benjamin Martin, peaceful widower raising seven children on his Massachusetts farm at the genesis of the Revolutionary War. His farm burned, his eldest son taken prisoner and his next eldest son slaughtered, Martin takes a stand to retrieve his son and protect the rest of his family.
Con Air – Nicholas Cage just wants to get home for his daughter’s birthday. After serving time in prison for a fight to defend his wife’s honor, Cage has been released but finds himself on board a plane hijacked by other prisoners. Trying to do the right thing without letting the criminals know he isn’t on their side, he must walk a fine line. A wonderful cast and lots of special effects – explosions, flying shots, bodies falling from the sky – make this a great film.
Day After Tomorrow – Dennis Quaid must rescue Jake Gyllenhaal from an ice age-like deep freeze which has trapped him in the public library in New York. Global warming and other scientific phenomenon have converged to create a blizzard and cold front unlike anything ever experienced by humans. Donning his best parka and loading up with the necessary equipment, he must trek hundreds of miles across the frozen tundra and divine where under all this ice the library actually is. Dad to the rescue!
Fiddler on the Roof – What better musical to characterize the trials and tribulations of a father of three daughters? Tevye struggles with the traditions of his people, the economic troubles they face and the well being of his children.
Mary Poppins – David Tomlinson embodies Mr. Banks, a stuffy British banker with little time for his children. He desires a nanny to take care of them and is overwhelmed by Mary Poppins whose sole purpose is reuniting the family and putting herself out of a job. Mr. Banks is not at first much enamored of his new nanny but comes to realize her worth and more importantly, his children’s.
The King and I – Yul Brenner in his signature role as the king of Siam is more about the relationship between himself and the British schoolteacher, Mrs. Anna, he hires for his children. Still, it is obvious he loves all 99 of his children and wants only the best for them. This is why Mrs. Anna was hired, to help his children enter a new time and take their place in world alongside more educated countries.
Amityville Horror – So James Brolin wasn’t to blame. He was overcome by the presence of the house’s previous owner. Still, the transformation from loving family man to a Charles Manson look alike ready to butcher them as they slept is not the daddy of most kids’ dreams.
Death Sentence – Kevin Bacon’s Nick Hume had a motive for going off the deep end. The gang bangers killed his son- senselessly and brutally. Learning that the killer will likely only serve three years in prison, Hume refuses to identify the killer and chooses to take matters into his own hands. Killing the murderer only brings the wrath of the gang down upon his family with a tragic end.
Hide and Seek – Robert DeNiro is David Callaway. His wife committed suicide and he and his daughter Emily have moved upstate t start over. Emily soon has a new friend, Charlie that only she can see. Strange things begin happening and the terror mounts as the identity of Charlie becomes apparent.
The Shining – The quintessential Jack Nicholson role is Jack Torrance, freelance writer and inn keeper. Jack takes his family on what they thought would be a great adventure. Locked away in a mountain top inn during the winter months leaves the family isolated from the world. The monotony and solitude begin to wear on Jack and he begins to change. Hallucinations and visions guide his hand until finally he snaps and decides his family must die.
The Stepfather – Not a pleasant title to begin with, Terry O’Quinn really gives stepfathers a bad name. As Henry Morrison, he seeks out widows with children to marry in search of the perfect family. When they invariably don’t live up to his expectations, he murders them.
Other honorable mentions in my Dad Movie Hall of Fame include Finding Nemo, Yours, Mine and Ours, A Simple Twist of Fate, Poltergeist and Dan in Real Life. While there are many, many more films pertaining to dads, this list should keep you busy for quite a while.