Crap Dads

Ashley Clark

In Rust and Bone, Jacques Audiard’s bruising new film, the director presents us with a masterclass in failing at fatherhood. Ali (Matthias Schoenarts), arrives in Antibes from Belgium with his angelic little lad Sam (Armand Verdure) in tow. With a fearsome physique and hair-trigger temper, Ali is vey much fighter first, lover second and father a distant third.

Alas, he’s not the first crap dad cinema has ever seen. And he’s not the worst either. To make Ali feel a little better about himself, we’ve trawled through the archives and come up with ten of cinema’s most feckless - and sometimes fearsome - fathers. Who did we miss?

1. Dr. Evil - Austin Powers series (Jay Roach, 1997, 1999, 2002)

“When a problem comes along, you must ZIP IT!

2. Ed Wilson - Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1993)

Wacky American comic institution Rodney Dangerfield was perfectly - and disturbingly - cast as the lecherous, bulging-eyed, puce-faced maniac masquerading as a father to Juliet Lewis’ Mallory. No wonder the poor thing turned out the way she did.

3. Ansel Smith - Killer Joe (William Friedkin, 2011)

A sleazy freelance contract killer decides that he wants to take your daughter as a “retainer” for services to be rendered. Do you a) ask him to close the door on the way out, b) argue with him, and suggest that this course of action may not be entirely necessary, or c) buy your daughter a revealing black dress and force her to go on a date with him IN YOUR OWN HOUSE! No prizes for guessing which option was taken by goat-like, brain-free hick Ansel (Thomas Haden Church) in Friedkin’s lively neo-noir.

4. Darth Vader - Star Wars (George Lucas, 1977)

One of the ultimate bad dads, right here. Look at his demonic get-up, for starters. In his merciless desire to be a top sinister overlord and rule the galaxy, the gravelly voiced (guttural growl c/o the brilliant James Earl Jones) old Darthy paid no mind to his kids, Luke and Leia, other than when he was trying to kill them.

5. Jack Torrance - The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980)

This vain, self-obsessed, psychotically indisciplined writer-turned-caretaker is mostly remembered as being a nightmare husband, terrorizing poor Wendy (Shelley Duvall, giving one of the all-time great haunted performances) throughout Kubrick’s creepy masterpiece. But let’s not forget, he ain’t much of a dad either. Good fathers don’t tend to lumber after their sons brandishing axes.

6. Jimmy Gator - Magnolia (Paul Thomas Anderson, 1999)

A cursory glance at Anderson’s oeuvre reveals a clear fascination on the director’s behalf with fathers - sometimes the real deal, sometimes surrogate. In Magnolia, there’s plenty of competition to be the worst dad. You’ve got Rick Spector (Jeremy Bowen) who’s only concern is whether his son Stanley can keep winning on his quiz show; then there’s dying Earl Partridge, who was so bad to his son (Tom Cruise) that he turned into a ponytailed sex guru. But cancer stricken Jimmy Gator takes the prize when we find out just why his daughter Claudia (Melora Walters) has spent the entire film crying and abusing drugs.

7. Glen Whitehouse - Affliction (Paul Schrader, 1998)

Veteran actor James Coburn deservedly won the Best Supporting Actor Oscar for his portrayal of a brutal bully, blighting the lives of his family and in particular his son Wade (Nick Nolte). His worst moment? When he explodes with rage at the wake of his wife, and hollers at his children: “Not one of you is worth a Goddamn hair on that woman’s head!”. Look, if you can intimidate the hulking Nolte, you must be trouble.

8. Royal Tenenbaum - The Royal Tenenbaums (Wes Anderson, 2000)

The eponymous patriarch in Wes Anderson’s touching family drama was a venal, irresponsible, racist old codger who realized - late in the day - that he needed to atone for a misspent life. Royal’s mischievous spirit was perfectly captured by Gene Hackman, who managed to imbue the dastardly character with a rogue-ish charm.

9. Daniel Hillard - Mrs. Doubtfire (Chris Columbus, 1993)

A useless father and failed actor, following a bitter divorce, happens upon a great idea: dress up like a Scottish housekeeper, march right back in, and rebuild those broken bonds. This might all sound great in movie-land, but can you imagine if your dad turned up at your house looking like this? Mrs. Doubtfire was brilliantly parodied in US sitcom Arrested Development, with David Cross’ Tobias Fünke in the role of Mrs. Featherbottom.

10. Noah Cross - Chinatown (Roman Polanski, 1974)

Not just one of cinemas all-time crap dads, but one of its greatest villains full-stop, John Huston’s Cross appears at first to be a pleasant enough guy. Then we find out the truth about him and his venal, corrupt, abusive ways.

Follow Ashley on Twitter: @_Ash_Clark

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