With 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)!