By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review is a heart-warming tale, with a little bit of black comedy; from writer/director Matt Ross called Captain Fantastic.
Having only briefly read up about this movie, The Phoenix in Leicester was the only venue showing it around me and I knew I had to catch this family-movie (with an edge).
The theatre was near enough full which was a promising sign, I just hoped it wouldn’t end up being ‘Captain Mediocre’ or worse…
In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.
Ben (an emotional performance by Viggo Mortensen) has taken his six children away from America’s consumerist environment to live a survivalist lifestyle in the forests. He teaches his children what he believes to be the necessities of like including athletic perfection and schooling them about Chomsky and Dostoyevsky. Ben’s unusual and uncompromising demands take a negative on the family, especially the mother.
Matt Ross’ film is certainly an intriguing piece; it’s engrossing as to what happens next. You see the extraordinary family living in a woodland type environment but once you know they will be forced out into the lands of civilisation, it's fascinating. Questions are posed as to how they will cope and that’s when the film blossoms. Ross goes out of the way to make their world seem idyllic in the first act so when the death of the mother occurs, we know the usual family way of life will go awry.
The core narrative throughout the film asks a simple question, what’s the best way to raise children nowadays? The movie jostles between the outcast way of life with Ben and then the consumerist mould in the modern world. Offering that side of the coin is Ben’s wife’s (Trin Miller) ruthless businessman father (Frank Langella) who detestes Ben’s methods of educating his kids and living, effectively, out in the wild. We wait the entirety of the film for Ross’ subtle hint at what he believes and right at the end, we see how Matt unveil his thoughts in a tender and emotional way with the final sing-a-long scene.
The leads of the film also help deliver the powerful messages throughout the film. Mortensen gives one of his best performances in years here with so much to do in his role. His character is extremely complex and he fully anchors the movie, he is in every scene bar a few. George Mackay, playing Bo (Ben’s son), is also a highlight of the film. I think the film follows his coming-of-age story in a dysfunctional family more so than any other plot line. George’s performances are getting better and better every time I see him. His time in the TV series 11.22.63 was excellent but he excels once again here. Samantha Isler (Kielyr) and Annalise Basso (Vespyr) also deserve a mention as the two strongest female characters in the family as without the mother; they step up as not only being the daughters but also young independent women. Their performances really aid the emotional feel to the film.
Captain Fantastic’s best-selling point is simply how refreshing it is. We have had family movies before but not like this. It’s a little sharper and rougher round the edges. It’s the honest talks about the mechanics of sexual intercourse between Ben and his youngest son where other films similar to Captain Fantastic would dodge. The beauty of this film is in the rawness and it’s so effective. It leaves an imprint on you of how life can sometimes get you down but there will always be someone to support you. It would be a shame to miss this film, as the clue is certainly in the title.
Cineroom’s Rating: 4.5 Stars
Captain Fantastic is screening at the Phoenix Leicester until Thursday 22nd September – certificate 15