A family has shirked normal life in America and taken their children to live in the woods that they have bought. Out in the wood the children are home schooled and trained to be physically fit and self reliant. From the eldest child to the youngest they are told to buck against the system, be honest, and be careful with their bodies. When the Mother dies tragically their way of life goes from being about peace and learning to questioning the choices that the family have made.
Sometimes doing this job there are films that you slightly cringe about going to see. It’s not that they are going to be bad but you think you can almost write the script from the trailer or the synopsis of the film. I don’t usually watch trailers as you know, but this one was watched at a presentation day for the company that is releasing the film here in Ireland, they had food and drink and goodie bags, so I watched the trailers of their upcoming slate. When the trailer for Captain Fantastic played I thought ‘Oh No!’ another overly sentimental fluff piece where Viggo Mortensen is trying to win an Oscar. However this is not the case, although it is Viggo’s strongest role, and he probably should be at least nominated. His character as head of the family is so one-sided in his approach to parenting while trying to be a balanced person himself, that his character is at one moment sure of himself and the next trying to twist the truth when challenged about the life choices he has picked for himself and the children.
When the Mother of the family dies it stirs something in the family dynamic and there is a cross-country trip to her funeral. Their respective family members are at the very least unsupportive of the choices that she and Viggo have made and try to change the lives of the children and Viggo as they prepare for the burial. There is plenty of conflict from the inner circle and the extended family as the realization that maybe the way of life that Viggo’s character has chosen for the kids is a little too extreme.
I didn’t expect to enjoy this film as much as I did. Viggo is amazing in the role of the head strong family leader, trying to teach the children to use their brains and bodies to the full extent of capability. The children, and there are about 100 of them, or 6, somewhere between the two numbers, are all able to match the performances of the more mature cast members. The isolation of their world in the forest to the normal life in America that they start to interact with is beautifully shown and the script manages to be gentle while making a strong point. The dialogue in the film is some of the strongest that I’ve seen this year, but the performances of the children charges this up even further. One scene, don’t worry it’s not a spoiler, sets one of Viggo’s screen kids against one of their cousins, when he asks do they know what The Bill of Rights is, and it’s just really subtly funny.
Frank Langelia plays the Mothers Dad, a man who believes in structure and order, you start off thinking that he’s the villain of the piece and then when you find out more and more about the family you realise that his headstrong performance is all about love in the only way that he knows how to show it. I could watch this man in any film doing anything this is a more meaty role than he usually gets these days and he plays it with dignity and poise.
Captain Fantastic is an emotional film, really beautiful to watch, clever and honest in the script, and it doesn’t lower the intelligence of the dialogue to appeal to the mass market. The film is about identity and love, makes social commentary, and proves that we as humans can’t do anything in small measures. It’s nice just to watch a family movie where you don’t come out of it feeling that everything is going to be okay, because at the end of this film, you feel that they are going to be hitting harder times with each member of the children that gets older. Really entertaining and moving and worth your cinema cash.
Captain Fantastic (2016) 4/5
Director: Matt Ross
Writer: Matt Ross
Stars: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler