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.
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.