The Son


Universal acclaim - based on 18 Critics

Critic score distribution:
  1. Positive: 17 out of 18
  2. Negative: 0 out of 18

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Critic Reviews

  1. 100
    It is as assured and flawless a telling of sadness and joy as I have ever seen.
  2. The ability to conceive a compact drama on this huge subject and to embody it as perfectly as they have done, added to what they have already accomplished, puts Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne among the premier film artists of our time.
  3. It combines a fresh and exciting style with stunning performances and that rarity in current film, a deeply humanistic story.
  4. Reviewed by: David Edelstein
    By the climax, we can hardly breathe -- The outcome is less important than our utter and complete empathy with this man. As we await what he does, we breathe with him, in and out. This is an astonishing movie.
  5. The Dardennes's masterful casting and austere style amplify this simple but powerful parable.
  6. To call The Son a masterpiece would be to insult its modesty. Like the homely, useful boxes Olivier teaches his prodigals to build, it is sturdy, durable and, in its downcast, unobtrusive way, miraculous.
  7. 90
    Makes no attempt to entertain us. Much of this extraordinarily tactful movie, like "Rosetta," is shot in close-up, focusing on the back of Olivier's neck, as if inviting us to see the world as he does.
  8. To my knowledge there's no one anywhere making films with such a sharp sense of contemporary working-class life -- but for the Dardennes it's only the starting point of a spiritual and profoundly ethical odyssey.
  9. 90
    The Dardennes sustain that tension through a masterful closing drive that resembles the final third of "In The Bedroom," only without the same dreadful inevitability.
  10. 90
    For all its quasi-documentary materialism, The Son is ultimately a Christian allegory of one man's inchoate desire to return good for evil. The movie requires a measure of faith, and like a job well done, it repays that trust.
  11. There are all sorts of ways to look at The Son -- as a philosophical thriller, as a statement of faith, as a call to political arms or just as a terrific entertainment.
  12. It's a movie imbued with a fierce intimacy -- a tone and style similar to cinema verite documentary -- but it's not a banal realism, even if the characters and settings in contemporary working-class Liege initially seem mundane.
  13. 80
    The results are a harrowingly intimate connection with a torn, tormented father, and an uncommonly powerful film.
  14. 75
    The real star of The Son isn't lead actor Olivier Gourmet. It's the back of his neck, which the camera obsessively focuses on throughout this difficult but rewarding Belgian drama.
  15. Shrewd, highly controlled little film from Belgium that builds to an unexpected emotional climax.
  16. A prime piece of whirlybird filmmaking, and the technique saps what might have been a powerful experience.
  17. 70
    Whatever allure The Son has lies in its very remoteness, in its resolute refusal to show us all but the most delicate emotional vibrations. It also moves very sluggishly.

Awards & Rankings

User Score

Generally favorable reviews- based on 18 Ratings

User score distribution:
  1. Positive: 8 out of 11
  2. Mixed: 0 out of 11
  3. Negative: 3 out of 11
  1. Oct 28, 2013
    With a stalking handheld camera relentlessly recording the kitchen-sink execution of a hyperbolical subject matter retribution andWith a stalking handheld camera relentlessly recording the kitchen-sink execution of a hyperbolical subject matter retribution and redemption, Dardenne brothers downplay the excessive theatricality and map out a distinctively mundane presentation of the most authentic and accurate learning curve about tackling unbearable ire and haunting guilt, from which derives a sensitively tangible proxy-father-and-son bond.

    Olivier (Gourmet), an instructor in a teenager rehab center voluntarily takes on Francis (Marinne), the murderer of his infant son 5 years ago, as his apprentice, who is 16 now and unbeknownst of his instructor’s real identity, so is the audience until halfway through when Olivier converses with his newly-pregnant ex-wife (Soupart), and from then on, what is left for viewers is to wait quietly and see how the bubble bursts, an inevitable confrontation will show the true color of both. But cleverly, Dardenne brothers never bother to stoke the climax with usual filmic antics, all the tension has been heaped up simultaneously with the everyday proceeding, and very much inked with ingenious details (such as Olivier refuses to pay for Francis’ lunch money when they grab a bite in a cafeteria), also, without the intruding music scores, THE SON is a cinematic fruit of its own kind, austere, voyeuristic and persistent, yet can easily generate the power of catharsis and has no worries about overkill. The ending has a great aftertaste if a first-timer may feel abrupt to a certain extent, there is a tacit understanding for both characters after the grapple, it is subtle and sensible, we don’t know if they can reconcile since the scenario would not seemingly exist in a real world, but thanks to the creators’ mind’s eyes, it is no doubt a heartfelt film lays bare the universal sense of empathy in such a dire situation.

    Gourmet and Marinne form an interesting pair with an invisible barrier between them, there is no showy parts but still a demanding job for both actors, an epitome in Dardenne brothers’ oeuvres, Gourmet immerse himself fully into the character-building, mostly by body languages, but 2002 is a strong year for my film-viewing, so he nearly cracks into my Top 10 list, but Dardenne brothers again strut into the top tier and my personal appreciation for them is continuing ascending (after THE CHILD 2005, 7/10; LORNA’S SILENCE 2008, 8/10 and THE KID WITH A BIKE 2011, 8/10)!
    Full Review »
  2. Aug 1, 2013
    The Dardenne brothers shy away from melodramatic flourishes: there's no music in the film, the performances are understated yet profound, andThe Dardenne brothers shy away from melodramatic flourishes: there's no music in the film, the performances are understated yet profound, and it's the gestures of the characters that are psychologically revealing--as opposed to the dialogue. "The Son" is a shrewd, highly controlled little film from Belgium that slowly builds to an unexpected emotional climax. Though distant and almost documentary-like in style, and it never stops taking us deeper into their personal lives. In other hands, "The Son" could easily have been just another straightforward revenge thriller.

    Olivier (Olivier Gourmet) is a carpenter who teaches carpentry to troubled teens in the juvenile criminal system learning a vocation. Olivier's routine is interrupted by the enrollment of a new student, Francis (Morgan Marinne), who becomes the object of the carpenter's inexplicable obsession. Initially, Olivier does not tell his wife Magali (Isabella Soupart) about the situation, but after careful consideration, Olivier reveals the secret to her--Francis is the teenager who murdered their child years before hand. After serving his sentence in the juvenile prison, Francis seeks to start anew, and eventually even asks the flummoxed Olivier to become his guardian. Olivier withholds his knowledge from Francis, even as a tentative relationship between the two develops. The tense scenario leads to a climactic confrontation, as the past finally catches up with teacher and student.

    Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne visual style is claustrophobically disorientating. The camera stays tight on Olivier Gourmet--he is in almost every shot, a handheld camera films him from his shoulders up, subjecting him to a scrutiny we rarely encounter onscreen. The scrutiny pays off, for soon we're able to read into the face of this unsmiling man and an underlying sorrow. This also adds to the sense of suspense and unknowing, while the jerky camera cuts suggest his internal agitation. The film is stripped-bare, and only the essential elements remain.

    The true challenge posed by the film is not piecing together the story, nor teasing out its meaning, but embracing its implications in our own lives. Not that "The Son" is a "message" film it isn't but it is one of the most profoundly moral and human films I have seen in years. On first viewing, the films rigorous method makes for a comparatively demanding viewing. The Dardennes aren't interested in entertaining the viewer-- but in something far more valuable. The difficulty of the first viewing can become challenging, though, ultimately becomes irrelevant in light of its extraordinary rewards.
    Full Review »
  3. ChadS.
    Jan 31, 2006
    Suddenly, every banal action by this sullen carpenter is significant. Our focus moves away from an overwhelming awareness that this film is Suddenly, every banal action by this sullen carpenter is significant. Our focus moves away from an overwhelming awareness that this film is being shot with a handheld camera, and onto the blank slate of a face we suspect is a signpost for an imploding soul. Before our very eyes, "The Son" transforms from a stunt into truth, artifice into edifying art. Emilie Dequenne is easier on the eyes than Olivier Gourmet, but "The Son" probably surpasses the Palm d'or-winning "Rosetta" from Cannes '99, simply because we're in disbelief that these talented filmmakers made another great film with this avant-garde approach that stops precariously short of being arch. Ultimately, "The Son" is a suspense film. Without any music cues to prepare us, we're kept on edge everytime the mentor is out of frame in context with his younger companion. Full Review »