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Captain Fantastic

Movie Review

 

Last updated 9/1/2016 at 4:35pm | View PDF

Captain-Fantastic-movie-starring-Viggo-Mortensen

Captain Fantastic is a highly original, incredibly honest, terrific film. Wedged into a summer of huge blockbusters with enormous budgets, high paid casts and CG action, Captain Fantastic is about real people and very interesting things like: family, conformity, death, literature, independence and parenting. Yet it is highly entertaining and emotionally involving and resonant.

watertown's own Viggo Mortensen plays Ben, a survivalist father of six who proudly home schools his children and trains them to live off the grid and fend for themselves. This includes killing, gutting and cooking their own food, and physical and mental training to make them as strong and independent as possible. The role of Ben fits Mortensen like a glove. It's a perfect part for the actor who shuns Hollywood and the limelight and couldn't care less if he were famous. With his craggy, rugged appearance and uncombed hair, he easily could have walked out of the Northwestern woods.

The children's mother is mentally ill and hospitalized, therefore leaving Ben as the sole parent. Soon an incident plummets the family into turmoil and Ben and the children go on a road trip in their funky converted school bus that thrusts them deeply into the society they have shunned and are sorely unfit for. This trip underscores their alarmingly different lifestyle and creates conflict with Ben's sister (Katherine Hahn) and brother-in-law (Steve Zahn) who believe that the children's extreme upbringing is harmful and creates huge disadvantages for their children's futures. Things are worse with the children's wealthy maternal grandparents played by an imposing, always fantastic, Frank Langella and a sympathetic, warm Ann Dowd.

Speaking of the cast, if there was an Oscar for best casting director; Jeanne McCarthy would win. From the impeccable casting of the six children, to every minor role, including a perfectly wry turn by Missy Pyle as the mother of an amorous teenage girl (Erin Moriarty) who has eyes for the oldest child in the clan; Bo (a terrific George McKay). Captain Fantastic is such a rich experience it is difficult to write about it, as it can't do justice to its layers and complexity. Writer/director Mat Ross is a remarkable talent, working with a self-effacing hand. He has phenomenal story skills and does amazing work with a large ensemble class. So many scenes feel improvised, so many scenes feel real. With this realness, there is truth and in truth there is power.

We should be proud of our native son, Viggo Mortensen, who not only is enormously talented, but chooses great films that actually have something to say. So far, Captain Fantastic is my pick for best film of 2016.

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