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« Interview: That Neon-Loving Demon, Nicolas Winding Refn | Main | Michael Cimino & the Best Director Oscar Since »
Wednesday
Jul062016

Review: Captain Fantastic

Here's Murtada with thoughts on an essential hero for these particular times, Viggo Mortensen as Captain Fantasic  (opening this weekend).

Captain Fantastic opens by immediately throwing the viewer into its physical world. Forests, mountains, people hunting and gathering. If I didn’t know the synopsis beforehand I’d have thought I was watching a update of Lord of the Flies. Instead the film is about a fiercely independent patriarch (Viggo Mortensen) raising his six children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest, teaching them how to thrive while turning his back on a conventional contemporary life and what it means and may offer.

This particular fantasy felt extremely appealing in a post-Brexit, Trump world...

It was as if the movie was providing a warm embrace to actual anti-establishment feeling (rather than the fake kind engineered by billionaire elites and politicians themselves). Captain Fantastic disdains all kinds of established order, being only governed by himself and his values. To quote Tina Fey: “I want to go to there”.

The film doesn't sell this as the right way to live, but rather asks us to consider it. And it does so without being saccharine because of Viggo's deeply anchoring performance. Of course we believe Mortensen in this role. He’s always brought a sense of romantic abandon and idealism to his parts. This time he adds layers of quiet anger and arrogance that become poignant when he realizes that maybe he isn’t always right.

As for the ensemble of kids, the boys get more shades than the girls. There is an underlying tension between the eldest boy Bo (George MacKay) and his not younger by much twin sisters (Annalise Basso and Samantha Isler) that I wish was explored more. Instead the movie is more interested in Bo, his awakening sexuality and his need for more structure and education. MacKay is good at portraying his dominant position in the family and very funny at conveying the confusion sex brings to his life. Nicholas Hamilton is also good as the middle son who's most visibly affected by the tragedy that befalls the family and forces them back into our world

Matt Ross, who wrote and directed, creates a credible family dynamic and doesn’t lose it when the setting transitions into the bigger world. In fact he successfully adds to it by bringing in different characters and new relationships. There is always believable tension between the different characters giving actors like Ann Dowd, Missi Pyle, Steve Zahn, Frank Langella and particularly Kathryn Hahn their moment to shine. Hahn, as Mortensen’s disapproving but compassionate sister, of course gets the biggest laugh of the film trying to placate hers and his kids in an inspired moment of motherly support.

Ensuring the relationships are at the center of the story, Ross gives us an captivating emotional ride. The film is generous to both sides of the moral question at its center, and with that one cannot but respond with enthusiasm. We need kindness like this in our lives. 

Grade: B+

Oscar Chances: Possible for Mortensen’s lead performance if the film strikes a chord with audiences and becomes a an indie hit this summer. Unlikely for Ross (who won best director at Cannes’ Un Certain Regard section), but this will be a good calling card for his future as a director.

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Reader Comments (15)

Fuckin' amazing movie. I ♥ Viggo and those kids. Kudos to the director and the casting team.

Oscar nomination for Costume Design if the film is a hit on any level. (Ditto for Dowd in Supporting, who brought herself into Academy awareness with her Compliance campaign.)

July 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

@Paul - I'm curious what you thought of Dowd's campaign - both her performance and that she tried to sell herself as supporting?

This movie sounds fascinating. Hopefully it'll start playing by me soon. I haven't seen Viggo on the big screen in ages.

July 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterDJDeeJay

@ DJDeeJay

I thought she was excellent in Compliance and that she was a co-lead. But given the dynamics of the relationships you could convincingly argue them all as supporting. And it seemed to me Dowd herself was leaning on the idea of "character actress + indie film = supporting" in her campaign. It didn't work, but it got her noticed after she won the National Board of Review.

July 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

I liked this a lot, although I was more troubled by what it had to say than I think you were. To sum up briefly, I thought the movie fully endorsed Viggo Mortensen (the father's) perspective while condemning Frank Langella's (the grandfather), without considering that there is a middle path.

July 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

@ Rebecca

What would that middle path be?

July 6, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

@Paul Outlaw - I guess it would be raising your kids something between purely in the wilderness - telling them when they broke their hand while rock climbing that they need to fend for yourself, you won't help them - and raising them in a pure capitalist society where they have a lot of social interaction but no substance to it. I think in some ways the end of the movie was trying to represent that with where Viggo ended up with his kids - raising them on a farm type situation where they still went to school - but I think it was still lopsided in terms of what it represented. I just think the movie overall was on his side instead of really interrogating that question, and it was interesting when I heard the Q&A afterward that director was raised more in the purely wilderness/Viggo model and he didn't seem to like it and thought it had its limitations.

FYI I think the purely capitalist/traditional way of raising kids has its limits, but I have also been around kids raised in commune environments and see the limits of that too.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

I think since most of the audience will be all too familiar with and all too accepting of the traditional/materialist way of raising kids, that's where the satire and examination needs to be centered. Which the movie basically does. The alternative lifestyle portrayed in the film is so foreign and strange to most of the audience that they will already be approaching it with some degree of skepticism, mistrust and hostility.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

@Paul Outlaw - point taken. I guess I took it from the point a non-mainstream point of view, but when I look at it the way you are thinking it has a great message and is sorely needed. I would love for the lifestyle presented in it to be more generally accepted and interrogated more on the basis of its genuine flaws than for being basically wrong/unacceptable for not being mainstream.

Also it was some great filming of the PNW :)

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRebecca

There are also some interesting subtle visual cues in the film, like the costuming of the mother-in-law (Ann Dowd), which would suggest that she herself is (or at some point in her past was) amenable to an alternative lifestyle. She seems a bit more hippie-leaning than her well-connected, wealthy establishment husband...or is she just able to afford high-quality handcrafted clothing and jewelry?

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

Rebecca - I thought the movie was eve handed in presenting both sides. We saw what could happen to the kids raised in the wilderness... specially in the stories of the two boys. And to Paul's point most are familiar with the way most kids are raised today. I liked how warmly it treated all its characters, even Langella who at first is presented as a villian but as the story goes along you see other shades of him.

July 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

I need way more Viggo in my life and those children are gorgeous.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

Can't wait to see this.

Also, I only just recently realized that Matt Ross also plays - superbly - the main villain in HBO's "Silicon Valley." Which just raises my opinion of him, and my anticipation for the movie.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

lylee -- i think Ross is a good actor. I loved him in The Aviator as DiCaprio's right hand man, too.

July 7, 2016 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Mortensen stays perpetually hot.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

@ Lynn & Nathaniel

In light of his own alternative upbringing (as alluded to by Rebecca above), it's fascinating to remember that Matt Ross is probably most known to many for his work on Big Love as Alby Grant.

July 7, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

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