It is sad to say, but there are so few films made that are able to absolutely consume you with raw beauty, talent and what is ultimately a wonderful story. And thankfully 2016 has provided Captain Fantastic, which fits right into that category. Set in the Washington State forest lives a family lead by Ben Cash played by Viggo Mortensen (The Road, A History of Violence and The Lord of the Rings trilogy). Here the family of six live wild and free, all the while being taught by their father with his slight bias towards sticking it to the man. But as the family have their ups and downs, just like any family does, they are struck with horrible news that forces a journey to New Mexico. A road-trip that will be the first time the childreninterac with the real world.
Captain Fantastic is a comedy, coming of age story, drama and adventure all rolled into one. Something similar hasn’t been seen since Little Miss Sunshine and Hunt for the Wilderpeople both with a particular focus on the father figure. In addition to that there is a dash of the films, The Way Way Back and Lord of the Flies. Written and Directed Matt Ross who is best known for his acting work as Gavin Belson in the television series Silicon Valley,American Horror Story and the film American Psycho. Ross takes a look at the family dynamics not only for the fact that they are living in the wilderness but also as they are being raised by a single parent. Ross manages to show how tough that alone can be but also how the father figure manages to shower his children in the love of two parents. Ross also created these wonderful and sometimes-hilarious differences between living in a self-sufficienthome that happens to be a tent in the woods to the interactions with everyone outside the fresh running water, rolling hills and beautiful landscapes.
It’s these differences that Ross is trying to show how dependent society is on the creature comforts. He also shows how lazy everyone can be whenhe or she aren’t pushed and shown his or her full capabilities. And this is shown through the strict routine he has the father take the children through every day. There is an enormity of differences the way the family lives and how everyone is consumed by consumerism and capitalism. Ross not only wrote a beautiful script but he also created a visually beautiful film. With the help of award winning French Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine, the film is bright and full of colour. As the family run through the woods you can’t help but want to see more as you immerse yourself in the true beauty everywhere the camera takes you.
Accompanying the appealing visuals is the score and soundtrack. Both of which compliment the story immensely from the family sitting around the fire at night playing their own musical instruments to the sweeping score as you move through the woods. Not to mention the powerfully delicate and sincere rendition of the Guns ‘n Roses song Sweet Child O’ Mine. Viggo Mortensen once again shows his ability to honestly play almost anything. The wonderful thing about Mortensen is he thankfully doesn’t play every character he can. Lord of the Rings and his portrayal of Aragorn shot him to fame in the early 2000s. From there Mortensen has gone from strength to strength with a wealth of award nominations for A History of Violence, Eastern Promises, The Road and A Dangerous Method. Mortensen doesn’t come across as a believable father that he is. Ben Cash is more of a gym teacher if anything. But that is part of the beauty of the character, you can see how much he wants to be the father figure, but he also wants to show his children they are adults and treat them with respect. But what he lacks in being a fatherly figure he oozes with adoration. There is so much emotion going on with Ben Cash, so much responsibility with his children that expressing it with words isn’t always his strength. What Mortensen manages to capture is an entire story with his face. You can read every emotion and anticipate his next thought all through his face. It should probably be noted that Mortensen isn’t afraid of putting himself right into the shoes of his characters. So much so when full frontal nudity calls for it, he’s there in all his glory. After all it is “just a penis”.
Another notable mention is the oldest son Bo, played by Actor George MacKay. While his acting career has been plentiful there is little that has made it mainstream. In Australia, The Boys Are Back, put him alongside Clive Owen. More recently he appeared in Pride with Bill Nighy. Though his biggest debut to the world would have been in the 2003 version of Peter Pan where he played Curley. MacKay manages to play the confident older brother, though he is full of emotion. The film opens with him becoming a man by way of killing a deer. But contrast to that we see him try to become a man when the family stays in a caravan park later in the film. Talking to a girl was easily one of the most cringe worthy parts of the film and MacKay completely stole the scene. The chemistry between Mortensen and MacKay was matched perfectly. It’s also fair to say the entire family was cast perfectly. Even down the youngest whoasks what sex is, only to be confused why you would want to put certain things in certain places.
The film starts off slowly which gives you a chance to feel what it is the family feel, what makes them tick. How they live their life in the woods and why father Ben Cash is so adamant to shelter them and bring them up with the values and discipline he feels is important to tackle the world with. But once the family hit the road, the movie gets moving just as quick flowing in and out of the ups and downs of their journey. It is a journey of self-discovery for everyone and the discovery of how everyone else lives their lives outside of the woods where they live.
Matt Ross does a wonderful job directing a stellar cast bringing every possible emotion easily and with precision. There are times where you are laughing out loud, crying with sadness or happiness or feeling their anger. Not an easy task to capture in one film. The film leaves you thinking about life, how you interact with your own family, what you want out of life. There are so many themes you see where you catch yourself thinking about your own ideals for the way you live your life.
Overall the film is truly wonderful and brilliant in the way it is written, its visual beauty and the way it makes you feel as you watch it. It’s a journey through just about every emotion and when it all comes to an end with that wonderful song Sweet Child O’ Mine sung by the family, it’s hard to hold the tears back.
Review by Jay Cook