Review: Captain Fantastic

Thanks to a strong ensemble and script, director Matt Ross constructs an utterly unique family along with star Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic.

Matt Ross’ follow–up to his raunchy minimalist drama 28 Hotel Rooms is a tough–love study of a family at the edge of society – and occasionally reason. But a family nonetheless, and one headed by Ben, played with fine and frank understatement by the very picky Viggo Mortensen, who isn’t afraid to make this dad the kind of guy who’d drive you crazy in real life.

Ben and his brood of six kids live somewhere in the wilds of the Pacific Northwest and his eldest, Bo (English actor George Mackay), is introduced hunting a deer in a ritual that suggests that this might be some kind of Deliverance variant. However, Ben is no savage, and the family aren’t ‘doomsday preppers’ either, although he has taught his children how to fight, steal and “stick it to the man” in between hippie–ish sing–alongs, readings (and reviews) of Lolita and Middlemarch, and conversations in Esperanto.

When the news reaches him that Ben’s psychologically frail wife has killed herself, and he’s told to stay away from the funeral by his father–in–law Jack (played late on in the action by Frank Langella), Ben knows that he’s in danger of losing his offspring and being arrested if he makes the journey to New Mexico.

And yet being the kind of impossible guy he is, he does anyway, and scenes of lightly comedic road–tripping take on darker, tenser tones once they get to the service. Full of fine acting, with strong smaller roles for Steve Zahn, Kathryn Hahn and others, this is still all about Mortensen and the children (as portrayed by Mackay, Annalise Basso, Samantha Isler, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell).

Indeed, the way in which director Ross convinces us that this is a real, close–knit, deeply idiosyncratic family unit is his greatest achievement here, and sees us past some uncertainty and clunkiness, as well as an ill– advised title that seems to belong to some weird superhero epic. And we’ve had too many of those recently, kids.

Rated M. Captain Fantastic is in cinemas now.

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