ATTICUS FINCH (TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, 1962) Played by Gregory Peck with the kind of quiet dignity all too rare in today’s cinema, principled lawyer Atticus Finch is the perfect movie father. While defending a black man falsely accused of raping a white woman in America’s racially torn Deep South, Atticus Finch does everything right: he uses brain over brawn, never buys into the fierce bigotry that swirls around him and is the ultimate role model for his two children. Though they at first think their father is a buttoned down stiff, the kids soon realise he is a lot more than that, as he proves himself a man of singular (but never trumpeted) greatness by risking incredible danger to do what he knows is right.
SAM DAWSON (I AM SAM, 2001) For Sean Penn’s Sam Dawson, fatherhood is about one thing: love. Though mentally handicapped, Sam has been a doting, caring father to his bright seven-year-old daughter Lucy (Dakota Fanning). But while she’s maturing, Sam is not, and their mental ages are now close to the same, meaning that Lucy will soon be more capable than her father. This sets the scene for a soaring tale of fatherly love, as Sam fights the courts (with help from Michelle Pfeiffer’s caring lawyer) to maintain custody of his daughter, brandishing the belief that true, deep, familial love overrides any problem that might get in its way.
MR. LEVENSTEIN (AMERICAN PIE, 1999) Or the man better known as “Jim’s Dad.” Eugene Levy is a fine comic actor and he brings truly pitch-perfect timing to the (pardon the pun) seminal role of hapless Jim Levenstein’s old man. Adolescence can be a very, very embarrassing time, well evidenced by the raucous, too-rude goings on in the American Pie films. And in every awkward situation, Jim’s Dad is the perfect parent, never embarrassing or scolding his son (even when he’s been caught putting the wood to a warm pie in order to get a little satisfaction), and always making the best of an often terrible situation.
TED KRAMER (KRAMER VS. KRAMER, 1979) As the embattled Ted Kramer in Robert Benton’s heartbreaking
domestic drama, Dustin Hoffman represents the father who is willing to grow and change. When the film begins, Ted Kramer is a man who puts his career before everything else. But when his wife Joanna (Meryl Streep) abandons him and their young son (Justin Henry), Ted is forced to become a father and mother all at once. The bond he forms with his son becomes steel-strong, but when Joanna returns seeking custody, Ted comes up against a legal system cruelly positioned against the rights of single fathers. It’s only when his fatherhood is threatened that Ted realises how important it is to him.
RAPHAEL (THE BRAVE, 1997) If sacrifice is the greatest indication of love, then the character of Raphael (played by Johnny Depp in his little seen directorial debut) is a father who puts his family before everything. A Native American living in an impoverished community on the outskirts of an unnamed city, Raphael knows that his future is less than bleak – it’s non-existent. So when he’s offered a large sum of money to “star” in a snuff film (whereby he will be tortured and killed on camera), Raphael accepts. He knows that the money will get his wife and children out of their life of hardship, and he literally gives up his life so that theirs will be better.
MORE GREAT MOVIE DADS
Chevy Chase in Vacation; Steve Martin in Parenthood; Sean Connery in Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade; Dustin Hoffman in Meet The Fockers; Robin Williams in Mrs. Doubtfire; Michael Keaton in Mr. Mom; Jimmy Stewart in It’s A Wonderful Life; Peter Fonda in Ulee’s Gold; Dennis Quaid in The Rookie; Marlin (Albert Brooks) in Finding Nemo; Christopher Plummer in The Sound Of Music; Gary Cooper in Friendly Persuasion; Frederic March in The Best Years Of Our Lives; Donald Sutherland in Pride & Prejudice; Roberto Benigni in Life Is Beautiful; Marlon Brando in Superman; Gregory Peck in The Yearling; Donald Sutherland in Ordinary People; Nicolas Cage in Kick-Ass; Van Heflin in Shane; Bruce Wayne in any Batman movie.
…AND THE BAD MOVIE DADS
DARTH VADER (STAR WARS) Though he’s redeemed by Return Of The Jedi, Darth Vadar is still the worst kind of father: when he’s not trying to kill his kids, he’s attempting to morally corrupt them.
DANIEL DILLON (THE CLAIM) Peter Mullan’s (who plays another not-exactly-ideal dad in this week’s Sunset Song) Daniel Dillon sells his young wife and daughter to further his own ambitions in this grim western. No votes for Father Of The Year there…
MOODY (NOT WITHOUT MY DAUGHTER) Alfred Molina’s Arabic extremist kidnaps his daughter from estranged American wife, Sally Field. Nice…
ALLIE FOX (THE MOSQUITO COAST) Harrison Ford’s Allie Fox is an egocentric nutter who always puts himself first and drags his family around the world with him on his bizarre journeys.
ADAM TRASK (EAST OF EDEN) Raymond Massey’s imposing, emotionally cut-off Adam Trask commits the cardinal father’s sin in this wonderful melodrama: he plays favourites, which sends family black sheep, James Dean, into a tailspin.
DAN GALLAGHER (FATAL ATTRACTION) One-time regular sleaze, Michael Douglas, puts his whole family at risk when he gets horizontal with psycho Glenn Close in this watershed thriller. Keep it in your pants, champ.
ROY SWEENEY (FLESH & BONE) Though some might see it as tough love, murderous thief James Caan’s efforts to involve his son in his criminal exploits is just plain, bad parenting.
ROYAL TENENBAUM (THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS) He’s emotionally distant, self-obsessed, unwilling to accept blame for anything, and he doesn’t know his daughter’s middle name…meet Gene Hackman’s Royal Tenenbaum.
GOD (THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST) Yes, we know it was all a part of his Master Plan, but what The Big Guy Upstairs put his only son through in this gory splatter-fest is borderline unforgivable.