Sunday, 19 February 2017

Film Review #96

Captain Fantastic (2016)
Director: Matt Ross Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Ann Dowd

Certificate: 15 Running Time: 118 Minutes

Tagline: "Family values. Power to the people. Stick it to the man."

Shunning modern Western civilisation and living off the land in seclusion is a very appealing prospect for some, and one that's likely to become more and more appealing as the years of one's life wear on and the banality of it all sinks in, I'd wager. This kind of life and the people that favour it have been the subject of several films over the years and Captain Fantastic is the latest example. It is written and directed by Matt Ross and stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash who for ten years has lived with his wife Leslie and six children in a log cabin in the forested Washington wilderness. Their children are taught survival skills, educated in science, history, philosophy, and undergo regular 'training' to keep them physically fit.

Leslie, however, has been suffering from bipolar disorder and during a stay in hospital commits suicide, forcing Ben and their kids to brave society at large. This naturally involves catching up with various family members, most of whom don't approve of the way Ben and Leslie lived and particularly how their children are being brought up. This is especially true for Leslie's father Jack (Langella) who wants to take the children away from Ben, even blaming him for his daughter's death. Naturally, Ben dismisses any concerns, but what do his children want? The unique nature of their upbringing hasn't prepared them too well for exposure to our often-ridiculous culture, but has the experience intrigued them or repulsed them?

It probably won't come as much of a surprise to learn that the results are a bit mixed, especially since the kids have little to no previous experience in the 'real world' and enter it only with the knowledge ingrained upon them by their father, as well as what they have gathered from their books. This inevitably leads to some interesting and frequently humorous scenes including a cringe-worthy dinner with Leslie's sister and her family and the eldest son Bodevan (MacKay) meeting his first girl (that he's not related to), as well as not wholly appropriate behaviour (or attire) for the funeral itself. It's as liberating a film as it is an amusing one though.

For all their quirks, there are at least some parts of their lifestyle that must look mighty appealing to frustrated, unfulfilled nine-to-five drones. Ben spends his time doing as he wants and much of that time is productive while his kids are all smart, fit, respectful, and have never even heard of so much of the mind-numbing bullshit that plagues our society. There must surely be more advantages than disadvantages to avoiding so much drudgery that most of us accept simply because we know of no alternative? The patriarch and overseer of such rebellion would need to cast carefully too. He would need to appear defiant and wise, but relatable and sympathetic too, so who better than the mighty Viggo Mortensen?

Sure enough, he does a fantastic job here (as if you needed me to tell you that), even managing to earn your support when he's in the wrong. Also welcome casting choices are Frank Langella who is great as the disapproving father-in-law, and Katherine Hahn as the sister-in-law and Steve Zahn as her slightly emasculated husband. Then there are the kids. All of them are pretty great including the youngsters, Zaja and Nai (Crooks and Shotwell), the redhead teens, Kielyr and Vespyr (Isler and Basso), and the two eldest boys, Rellian (Hamilton) and Bodevan who have the biggest roles, and the moments they're all together on Ben's old converted bus are some of the most enjoyable in the film.

There are a lot of other enjoyable moments through the film too. The fish-out-of-water aspect could've been explored a quite a bit more, particularly with the kids who are effectively experiencing things for the first time, but that's the only criticism here really. I almost feel guilty for identifying any, it's not often a film like this comes along, more should be encouraged if you ask me. It's funny and moving in equal measure and its themes are interesting, relevant, and thought-provoking. It has the kind of charm that will see it appeal to film fans of almost all types. If you fancy a break from all the superhero stuff and big-budget blockbusters of recent years, give this unusual indie a try instead. Fantastic indeed.

RKS Score: 8/10



  1. Sometimes it's wonderful to explore beyond the banality of Hollywood. It would have been nice to see Leslie, and learn more of her struggle and condition to understand why she did something as drastic as suicide. Awkward scenes and tensions are brilliantly realised. Well worth a watch for sure :)