Actor, Writer, Producer and Cinematographer, "Captain Fantastic" is Matt Ross' second directorial feature film following his debut "28 Hotel Rooms" in 2012. Here is my love in, spoiler free review of Captain Fantastic as I adore this film and it remains one of my favourite films of 2016.
"You're only repeating what Dad says"
Written and directed by Matt Ross, I originally watched Captain Fantastic with a completely blank slate, no trailers, reviews or buzz of the film and fell in love with it immediately and having recently watched this again for the purposes of this blog, I fell in love with the film all over again. There are a myriad of reasons why: Ross' simple yet charmingly immersive direction, a deeply affecting story line with a cathartic payoff, a barnstorming central performance from Viggo Mortensen supported brilliantly by his troupe of "monkey butts" whose individual performances continually brought tears to my eyes, in a highly original story of faith, love, the strength of the family unit and of free individualistic expression. This is set against a continuing question of whether the family, and more specifically Mortensen's central character, is doing what is right or whether it's through self righteous indignation at a world he and has wife have deliberately left behind in order to raise their children "off the grid" of mainstream society in an Eden like secluded forest, where the six children are rigorously and meticulously home schooled, taught self sufficiency, survival skills, politics, philosophy and physical and mental well being. This is a joint parental decision however, following his wife's suicide, "Ben" (Viggo Mortensen) and his family embark on a road trip into the very outside world they have been set apart from. The juxtaposition and clash of cultures between the family's self sufficient world and the world around them is brilliantly written and realised through Director Ross. With the family on board their trusty green bus named "Steve" they travel through an alienating world they cannot comprehend en route to their beloved's funeral.
Oscar nominated in 2017 for his role as family patriarch Ben, Viggo Mortensen is front and centre in every way here. It is a bravura central performance of determination against the odds and at times a powerhouse acting display but what shouldn't be overlooked are the more subtle nuances of Mortensen's portrayal as his looks of encouragement, pride and cajoling and guidance of his children are masterful and captured brilliantly by Director Ross. It's also never overplayed into grandstanding and thus taking the audience out of the story, for Ben is opinionated to the nth degree and always tells his children "the truth" on every subject, be it their mother's death, their family "missions" or the impact of Big Pharma, drugs, sex, religion and faith in everyone's lives. His brutal honesty is refreshing, if a little grating, but should you feel the latter as well as the former then his performance is even more stellar and comprehensive. Ben is raising his children to be self sufficient and reliant on themselves as unique entities, with freedom of expression of paramount importance, but it can be equally argued that he has made them and raised them in the image of himself and his beliefs. Family "discourse" is immensely encouraged but every one of the six children are devoted to their Father and family with the rare exceptions being outbursts from the two older male members of the family, reinforcing another of the film's numerous themes, that of the Father/Son dynamic.
All six uniquely named children are portrayed brilliantly throughout the film, whether Charlie Shotwell as "Nai", Shree Crooks in her gasmask(!) as "Zaja" or the older girls Annalise Basso as "Vespyr" or Samantha Isler as "Kielyr". However the two strongest and pivotal performances fall to Nicholas Hamilton as "Rellian" and George MacKay as "Bodevan". Firstly Nicholas Hamilton, who in his role as Rellian excellently portrays a silent screaming of rage at what he perceives to be his Father's inaction and inability to help his Mother through her troubles and desperately wanting to rebel from the unorthodox family life he seemingly endures, whilst George MacKay follows up his superb performances in Sunshine on Leith and Pride with another here as Bodevan. The oldest of the children, he surreptitiously applies to and is accepted into a number of Universities and is an immensely talented and well read individual, but also speaks for the group of children in a way, describing himself as a "freak" and in one of the film's most iconic lines of dialogue (and the film is awash with eminently quotable lines) "unless it comes out of a fucking book, I don't know anything about anything", which in essence highlights one of the many through lines of the film. All six children are happy, healthy, physically fit, incredibly well read and self sufficient but they have no understanding of the "real" world and the world surrounding them, exemplified as they look on aghast and mouths wide open at their fellow Americans in a bank or shopping mall. They are socially awkward and alien to the world around them and crucially, it's inhabitants, as they struggle to interact in any meaningful way with the world outside of their close knit familial unit of seven people. This comes into even sharper focus when their road trip brings them into contact with even members of their own extended family as they again look on dumbfounded at their cousins dependency on their computer games and electronic gadgets and even the suburban lifestyle enjoyed by their Auntie "Harper" (Kathryn Hahn) and Uncle "Dave" (Steve Zahn). Cameo roles fall to Erin Moriarty as "Claire", Missi Pyle as her Mother "Ellen", Ann Dowd as the children's Grandmother "Abigail" and a thunderous performance from the brilliant Frank Langella as the children's Grandfather "Jack" should not be overlooked. With "Leslie" (Trin Miller) coming back to comfort husband Ben in his dreams in some of the film's most affecting scenes by the time Captain Fantastic reaches it's denouement you may well have shed an occasional tear or two as well as many laughs, chuckles and smiles along the way, as well as maybe singing along with the family at their get togethers or humming along with the film's tremendous musical score from Alex Somers. Captain Fantastic is equal parts joyous and melancholic with a challenging story that may well resonate with more of us than we care to admit. I may be biased, being as I rate this one of my favourite films of 2016, but this film is truly a marvel. But regardless, always remember folks:
"Power to the People"
"Stick it to the Man"
Oh and, Happy Noam Chomsky Day everyone!