Captain Fantastic is unexpectedly charming and delightfully entertaining By Kaely Monahan
It’s not another super hero movie. Captain Fantastic is about a man and his six children and their wild lives. They live sustainable lives out in the woods of Oregon that would make any modern eco-conscious hipster jealous. Viggo Mortensen stars as devoted father Ben. He teaches his children not only survival skills like hunting and gathering, but also martial arts and high intellectual concepts. This family derides the consumeristic world of 1970s America. (Instead of Christmas they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day.) The children are walking-brains that would make the rest of us feel lacking in intelligence.
Their idyllic lives are disrupted after finding out that their mother, Ben’s wife—(played by Kathryn Hahn), committed suicide. She was being treated for mental illness when it happened. Her parents—namely her father—tell Ben he is not welcome to come to her funeral. However after prompting from his children they hit the road on their bus named Steve and head to New Mexico.
The film is written and directed by Matt Ross, who is known for the addictive TV show American Horror Story and the side-splittingly funny Silicon Valley. Ross’ script and direction save this story from soapbox evangelization about the horrors of modern life, and turn it into a real study between living off the grid and living with it.
There’s a moment when one of the kids, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) sprains his wrist while rock climbing. Instead of rushing to help the boy, Ben essentially tells him to pull himself up by his bootstraps. It’s a moment that would make and modern parent cringe. However, Ben fully realizes later in the story that he has been putting his children in danger. It’s a hard realization and he is wracked with guilt and questions his entire life.
Captain Fantastic doesn’t shy away from exploring both the good and bad of society—be it on or off the grid. Yet the glue that holds this film and carries it to a brilliant conclusion are the actors. Mortensen is known for being highly selective in his film work. A bit of recluse himself, he seemed to inhabit Ben fully to the point where it was hard to separate the character from the actor.
Mortensen is one of those actors who reaches inside your soul and twists it with his performances. The cast is stacked with brilliant child actors as well including George MacKay (Pride, Defiance, and How I Live Now), Samantha Isler (Grey’s Anatomy and Supernatural) and Annalise Basso (Bedtime Stories and Oculus). Each child had personality and depth to them but their individual stories didn’t slow down the plot.
In all, Captain Fantastic is masterfully crafted and a worthy summer film.
- Kaely Monahan is an entertainment reporter and creator of the film review podcast Popcorn Fan Film Reviews.