Sundance Review: 'Captain Fantastic' lives up to its name
27 January 2016
Image Eric Simkins.
© Bleecker Street.
Twitter was all a buzz following the premier of Captain Fantastic. So much so that I decided to rearrange my schedule to see the film as soon as possible. I really don't like buying into Sundance hype, there's too much hyperbole and not enough perspective. Still, when Viggo Mortensen is in the mix, it doesn't take much to get me to jump on a bandwagon.
Captain Fantastic tells the story of Ben (Mortensen), a man who, along with help from his wife, has disconnected from the modern world to build a sanctuary deep in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. There his six children are intellectually and physically challenged every day. They hunt by day and read Tolstoy at night. When tragedy requires that they leave Utopia and experience the outside world new questions about how prepared the children are to face the realities of life begin to surface and threaten to tear the group apart.
Mortensen helped to introduce Captain Fantastic by saying it was "the smartest script from start to finish" that he had ever read. He also said that we, the audience, were allowed to disagree with him. I can't. Director/writer Matt Ross has crafted a fascinating story that twists and turns naturally. It engages you instantly as he drops you into Ben's world without explanation and asks you to patiently wait to let the nuances of the family's existence reveal themselves. The simplicity is beguiling, even though the work is hard.
Paradise has a cost and the price that is paid becomes increasingly clear as the family ventures out into society. What seemed ideal in one setting isn't as functional in another.
For the bulk of the film we learn what kind of man Ben is, but it isn't until the end that we are shown who he is. The hard intellectual exterior falls away to reveal the emotional core.
Mortensen is likely to attract the most attention for his performance, some are already calling for an Oscar nomination, but the film only works because the ensemble is fantastic. Not an easy task considering that the cast is dominated by young actors. Casting directors don't get their due, but clearly Ross had extraordinary help in finding the perfect mix of actors.
Captain Fantastic a special film, the kind I look forward to seeing again and again.
Last edited: 12 May 2016 12:25:25