Captain Fantastic – Film Review by Fran Winston
Directed by: Matt Ross
Starring: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Kathryn Hahn, Trin Miller, Steve Zahn, Missi Pyle, Frank Langella
In cinemas September 9th
This film boast possibly one of the most disturbing/memorable/engaging/horrific (delete as applicable) opening scenes you will ever see. I don’t want to spoil it for people but even after the movie ended people were still talking about it on the way out of the cinema, it was so affecting.
It does however very much set the tone of this movie about Ben Cash (Mortensen), who has moved his family to the forest where they live off the grid utilising old fashioned survival methods. He is raising his six children alone after his wife is hospitalised with bi-polar disorder. The children have daily survival training and home schooling. However when his wife tragically kills herself the family returns to civilisation for the first time in over a decade in order to attend her funeral, despite her parents protests.
Don’t let the whole Bear Gryllis survival thing fool you – this is part road trip and part family drama using their lifestyle choices as a catalyst for the tale. Mortensen proves a sound choice for the lead role. He manages to come across as tough yet genuinely loving and caring as regards his family, while also being blinkered to the ideas of others and grieving for his lost wife. That is a lot to layer onto a character but he succeeds and while you may not always agree with Ben’s choices you respect them.
Special kudos must go to the six actors playing his children though. There are a vast range of ages here from pre-schoolers to teens and each one of them gives a fantastic performance. It is tricky enough to find one child actor who could handle some of the subject matter here, so the Casting Director should get an extra pat on the back for this.
Langella proves an excellent foil to Mortensen as his estranged father-in-law. His character is almost the polar opposite of Ben and again he manages to layer him with depth and feeling and even when he is being unlikeable you feel his grief and see his point.
The story is multi-layered with numerous twists and turns and even until its final minutes it manages to surprise the viewer. The settings are also well chosen with the lush forest and surrounding scenery contrasting nicely with the “oppressive“ civilised world.
It also manages to veer the right side of preachy. While Ben has strongly held beliefs you never feel like his message is being shoved down your throat – rather that his lifestyle is his choice, not one he is forcing upon others.
This is such a simple premise that it may not sound very exciting but it is one of the warmest and most heartfelt family dramas you will see this year, if not ever. A combination of perfect casting and a somewhat extreme catalyst makes for a hugely enjoyable, humorous and tug at the heartstrings cinematic experience. This is good old fashioned storytelling that allows the tale to unfold and the actors to do their job without relying on gimmicks. It is also incredibly thought provoking. Mortensen should definitely be considered for a few gongs come awards season and this could well become a modern classic.