Viggo Mortensen shines as the head of a nonconformist family in Captain Fantastic, in what is undoubtedly one of the year’s best films.
Ben (Mortensen) lives off the grid in the forests of America’s Pacific Northwest, raising his six children to live off the land, teaching them survival skills as well as providing them with life lessons based on the teachings of the greatest philosophers. After a tragedy occurs, the family is forced back into regular society, testing their every notion of being up until that point.
Captain Fantastic is a multi-layered film, one that will make you laugh and cry, as well as one that may spark a debate about the lifestyle led by the film’s hippie-like family, in comparison to what is generally considered normal by modern society’s standards. Ben’s kids are all practically little geniuses, especially when comparing them to their suburbanised peers, however they have barely any social skills (or at least ones that you would consider normal). Is he right in raising his kids in this primitive style, or do they deserve a more standardised upbringing? This is one type of theme Captain Fantastic will challenge you with.
Director Matt Ross does an excellent job in bringing these themes to light with his compelling story, all made possible through the outstanding performances by his cast. Viggo Mortensen is captivating as a father so set in his ways, that he doesn’t realise the potential negative effects that his way of living may have on his kids. In comes renowned actor Frank Langella as Jack, Ben’s father-in-law and grandfather to his kids, as the strong-arming voice of reason. The kids also stand out in their roles, led by the eldest son Bo, played by George MacKay.
Matt Ross hits the mark on the pacing of the film, sending you on an emotional rollercoaster throughout its duration, as we’re made to feel a part of this family and experience their highs and lows. The film is hard to fault, though there were times towards the end of the film where you feel like it could have ended and it would have been sufficient, though the director decided to pile on more scenes. It doesn’t take much away from the film, though it could have made for a greater film overall if the director had left you on an emotional high (or low depending on how you look at it), rather than rounding it off for closure’s sake.
Aside from the story and the performances, what makes Captain Fantastic one of the year’s best films is how it successfully manages to create a connection between the film’s characters and the audience. Along with that, the film has resonating qualities, is thought-provoking, and will leave you with a sense of satisfaction that is hard to come by in modern cinema these days.
At a screening in San Francisco, Matt Ross revealed that over the course of filming, the group of children came to call Viggo Mortensen “Summer Dad”.