Take One, Take Two: Unconventional father/son films for Father’s Day


“My dad taught me everything I know. Unfortunately, he didn’t teach me everything he knows.” – Al Unser

The dynamics between fathers and sons have been the basis for hundreds of movies. Who can ever forget the fatherly advice given by Vito Corleone to his son Michael in “The Godfather” (1972) or the opportunity of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner) to have a “catch” with the ghostly apparition of his late father in 1989’s “Field of Dreams.”

And although the story of Atticus Finch is told through the memories of his daughter, “Scout,” in “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962), the central theme throughout the film, and the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, is Atticus’ relationship with his son, Jem.

For Father’s Day, we offer some offbeat father/son films that may not be on your radar screen. Each is a revelation in exploring the relationship of unconventional fathers and sons.

Take One

A brutal Irish mob enforcer must go on the run with his 12-year-old son when his family is murdered by the son of his boss. Unprepared, and with no plan on how to survive, the father and son must learn to depend upon each other to avoid the law and the tentacles of the gangsters bent on killing both of them. This is the basic plot of Director Sam Mendes’ 2002 crime thriller “Road to Perdition”. The gangland enforcer is portrayed by Tom Hanks, in a role unlike any other in his storied career. And in a remarkable debut, Tyler Hoechlin is Michael Sullivan, Jr., who has to reconcile his father’s violent legacy, and what he must do to survive. The supporting cast is equally amazing, with Paul Newman (in his last film) as the mob boss, Jude Law as a paid assassin, and Daniel Craig (pre-James Bond) as Newman’s sniveling son that sets everything into motion. The film was shot by the brilliant Conrad Hall, who won his third Academy Award for Cinematography, and the film was nominated for five other Oscars.

“Life as a House” (2001) is a little gem of a film by producer/director Irwin Winkler. Winkler previously directed “Rocky” (1976) and produced “Raging Bull” (1980), “The Right Stuff” (1983), and “Goodfellas” (1990). Kevin Kline is George Monroe, a self-satisfied model fabricator, divorced from his wife and estranged from his teenage son. He lives in a shack on a spectacular cliff overlooking the ocean, unfazed by losing his job and loving his bachelor lifestyle… until his doctor tells him his life is quickly ticking away. As a final act, George decides to build his dream home by hand, with the assistance of his estranged son. Hayden Christensen (pre-“Star Wars”) is intense as the rebellious prodigal son who is in the dark about the reckoning his father faces. The developing relationship between father and son is riddled with flaws, but those only make it all the more moving as George’s life slips away.

Take Two

A rare film first released on video before appearing in theaters is comedian/director Bobcat Goldthwait’s indie film called “World’s Greatest Dad”(2009), about a single father, Lance (an astonishing Robin Williams), attempting to raise an offensive, cruel, and text-addicted teenager. The son Kyle is portrayed by an excellent Daryl Sabara. If that sounds like a tough

watch, fear not: an absolutely horrific (but believable) twist before the film’s midpoint dramatically shifts the film’s trajectory, and Lance’s role in his son’s life. Admittedly, this sounds like a tough sell and indeed, the film was basically abandoned by its distributor. It’s too bad, since the film in its latter stages astounds in its humanity and the use of satire. A rare comedy that’s as difficult as a real relationship eventually Lance proves that he’s capable of not just fatherhood, but of becoming a hero in his own right, even if it comes at the expense of others. Williams is at his most unguarded here, in one of the most nuanced performances of his career.

There are maybe only three films that I’ll watch time-and-again, and I’ve written about one here at length: the sentimental Christmas classic “Remember the Night ”(1940). The second I’ll save for a future column, but the third is the richly realized “October Sky ” from 1999. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as Homer Hickam, a real-life NASA scientist and “rocket boy” from West Virginia who managed to escape the grip of his small town’s providential mine and become one of the chief architects of the NASA space program. Chris Cooper stars as his judgmental father, hailing a performance that every Midwestern boy can identify with and often oppose. The two never waiver from their different trajectories in life, but rather, realize that their disagreements may bind them closer together. A generic Hollywood feel-gooder from an era in which there are far fewer of them, I saw “October Sky ” on a Friday afternoon with my father in 1999. I doubt my father would disagree when I say that we wouldn’t be here today without that fateful ticket stub.

All films available on Amazon Prime and YouTube.

(This column is written jointly by a baby boomer, Denny Parish, and a millennial, Carson Parish, who also happen to be father and son.)

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