The film Captain Fantastic (2016) is much better than one might expect. Although a short description of the film sounds like a family television series, the movie rises above expectations so that the sum of its parts make it one of the more enjoyable movies of the summer.
Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross, stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben, an idealistic father trying to raise his six children away from society in the wilds of Washington state. As the movie opens, we learn that Ben’s wife is away being treated in a hospital.
Ben is serious about the education of his children, teaching them such activities as defending themselves with knives and rock climbing. But he equally teaches them about politics, philosophy, and literature. For example, the anti-capitalist family celebrates Noam Chomsky‘s birthday instead of Christmas.
As the movie progresses, word about Ben’s wife leads him and the children to go on the road. Some of the more humorous moments involve the family clashing with modern society. Ben also clashes with family members, in particular with his father-in-law Jack, played by Frank Langella.
From a description, so much of the movie seems predictable. But the movie works for several reasons. First, the actors are outstanding. Mortensen, of course, dominates the film. But the actors playing the children do an excellent job of giving personality to the roles. Actors Samantha Isler and George MacKay, for example, show that they have promising careers ahead of them.
Another reason the movie works is that the characters are three-dimensional. Producers of movies like this one are often tempted to make the father character perfect, but Ben is far from perfect, just as Langella’s character is not all bad.
Captain Fantastic does not give a one-sided perspective. Variety even argues that the film is both left-wing and right-wing.
I will not say more about the movie because it is better enjoyed without knowing too much about it. It is not a big-budget summer blockbuster, but it is an enjoyable movie that may be under the radar. Is Captain Fantastic fantastic? I will have to think more about the question, but the movie certainly does restore your faith in small summer movies.
Rotten Tomatoes gives Captain Fantastic a 78% critics score and an 85% audience score.
What did you think of Captain Fantastic? Leave your two cents in the comments.
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