Is it better to be sheltered from the storm or released into the wild at birth? Writer/Director Matt Ross(you know him Silicon Valley and Big Love) gets that theory wet like a sponge and throws it against the wall in one of 2016’s most unexpected cinematic pleasures. Captain Fantastic will make you think and explore the idea of when innocence should end. It’s also brilliantly odd, inventive, and easily one of the best films I’ve seen in 2016. Good luck getting this film out of your head.
With the help of Viggo Mortenson(first film in years) and an expertly chosen cast of kids and teens, Captain Fantastic explores what it would be like to raise your family on nothing but the great outdoors. Instead of a cell phone game of candy crush or Pokemon, your oldest son would fully understand the complex music of famous conductors and recite poetry. Instead of playing with action figures, your eight year old would be able to dish her take on the Bill of Rights. A family outing would include hunting and killing a deer and engaging in a morning class of yoga and cross fit.
Mortenson’s Ben has raised his kids up tough and gruff in the beautiful outdoor land of the Pacific Northwest. Along with his wife, they have created a life for themselves off the grid and without the need for electronics. A knife is a kid’s favorite tablet in Ross’ world and the film creates a quirky exercise when a tragedy forces the family to join the “other world” for a funeral.
Ross’ film will make you uncomfortable while making your mind divulge into deep thought about the way a child should be raised. He injects provocative theories on modern society and what triggers a child’s growth. Ross gives every voice a chance to speak in this film. Mortenson’s ideals are challenged when he is confronted with a “conventional practitioner” in his sister in law(Kathryn Hahn). When he is confronted by his father in law(Frank Langhella) for an injury to a child, the father is challenged in a completely different way.
Fantastic challenges your theories on commercialism, politics, and the way the world should work and function. Is it better for a teenager to have read every important novel there is to find or is it more useful to be able to interact with a woman for romantic interests?
Ross doesn’t lay out any clean answers either. He sets up dinner tables of theories and scenarios and lets the viewer take his/her shot at understanding or answering the question. This film goes where few films have gone before and none of it felt forced or overly cinematic. You thoroughly believe this family exists out there and that you could run into them some day.
Mortenson helps the realism settle in. Talk about an actor digging into a role with everything he’s got. Ben shares many traits and ideals with the actor and you can see why he came out of semi-retirement to portray him. You need an actor who doesn’t have an ounce of vanity and can easily slip into this guy’s skin. Get a performer with too much flash and not enough gravity, and the whole film would be tripped up. Mortenson’s nonchalant restraint lends the film a subtly that aids its moral and value.
The kids are alright here. George MacKay blends innocence and toughness as the oldest, Bo. Samantha Isler and Annalise Basso produce older sisters that feel authentic and never get overplayed. The real standout is Shree Crooks, the eight year philosopher who craves her own knife and loves the Bill of Rights. Crooks had small roles on Ray Donovan and American Horror Story in years past but she is excellent here as your uncommon adolescent.
Ross created something authentic here. Captain Fantastic doesn’t feel like something you have seen before and it challenges the values you held dear as you walked into the theater. When you walk out of it, you will be debating with yourself and others about the way the world should work and operate. When I left the theater, I was thinking about taking the tablet away and camping more. This film has that effect and it’s a great thing.
Captain Fantastic presents three great things. The fine return of one of Hollywood’s best in Mortenson. An inventive plot that will make you think. It also reveals a writer/director to keep an eye on Ross. He has my attention now.
Captain Fantastic is one of the most engaging films I’ve seen in quite some time. It doesn’t force you to think. It merely compels you to. Don’t miss it this weekend.