June 14, 2014 at 1:00 am

Tom Long

Dads of all stripes find their way into movies

Nemo and his dad, Marlin. (Disney / Pixar)

Everybody’s got one. Known or unknown, liked or not, hopefully loved. But if you’re reading this you’ve had a father.

So it’s not surprising that fathers appear in movies, as well. Sometimes they’re the hero, sometimes a victim, sometimes just a guy getting crushed by a taxi some alien threw for fun. Often they’re involved in family anguish or power grabs or raw survival. Most are sympathetic. Some are horrific.

So many great father figures have emerged in cinema, from Marlon Brando’s patriarch in “The Godfather” (1972) to Dennis Hopper’s laughing-at-death protector in “True Romance” (1993). A complete list would go on for pages, but here are some father characters of note from our still-new century. Like most fathers, they’re imperfect, but they try:

Denzel Washington as John Quincy Archibald in “John Q” (2002). Denzel is the ultimate protector in this story about a dad who takes a hospital emergency room hostage, demanding that his young son gets the heart transplant he desperately needs, even though his insurance company refuses to pay for it. In the end, he gives his all.

Albert Brooks as Marlin in “Finding Nemo” (2003). Has any father ever traveled further or endured more danger — not to mention the nonstop prattling of Dory (Ellen Degeneres) — in order to find and save his son? The movie’s a lot of fun, but it’s Marlin’s passion that sustains it.

J.K. Simmons as Mac MacGuff in “Juno” (2007). Simmons makes Mac a guy who can simultaneously cast sarcasm and light on a situation. He supports his daughter no matter what. The combination of reactive humor — which Juno (Ellen Page) knows well — and unreserved faith in his daughter’s decency is downright inspirational.

Dan Castellaneta as Homer Simpson in “The Simpsons Movie” (2007). The sheer longevity (25 years in 2014) of the Simpsons’ franchise is testament to how core the idea of family is to drama and life itself. And while Homer may not be the ideal dad, or even a good dad — OK, he’s a terrible dad — he perseveres despite being a walking disaster. It’s OK to laugh at Dad.

Viggo Mortensen as Man in “The Road” (2009). The apocalypse has happened, civilization has collapsed, all seems hopeless, and yet this father takes his son (Kodi Smit-McPhee) away from their home in search of hope and a future. What he finds instead is a brutal world filled with violence and man gone mad, but he perseveres as long as he needs to.

Nicolas Cage as Big Daddy in “Kick-Ass” (2010). True, he may not be the most genteel of characters, teaching his daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz) to be a one-person killing machine. And most good fathers don’t shoot their kids point blank in the chest (she’s wearing a vest). But the fact that Big Daddy adores Hit-Girl is obvious in every scene they share. And who wouldn’t want a superhero for a father?

Nick Nolteas Paddy Conlon in “Warrior” (2011). This is Daddy redeemed. Nolte won a best supporting actor nomination playing a guy who was such a horrible parent neither of his two grown boys can stand him. But he’s turned a big corner, and even if they don’t believe in him, he believes in them. It makes for surprisingly poignant stuff in what on the surface looks like a sports film.

Demian Bichiras Carlos Galindo in “A Better Life” (2011). Bichir earned a best actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of an illegal immigrant gardener in Southern California trying to keep his son away from gangs while barely surviving economically. Everything goes wrong for him, but he will not let his boy fall the wrong way. It’s powerful, real world stuff.

There are likely many more fine movie fathers to be listed. And let’s not even start on TV: Walter White, anyone?


Ellen Page and J.K. Simmons in 'Juno' (Fox Searchlight Pictures)