CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (USA/TBC/118mins)
Directed by Matt Ross. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Missi Pyle, Frank Langhella, George McKay.
THE PLOT: Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his seven young children live completely removed from society, somewhere in an American forest. When the children’s mother commits suicide while away from her family, Ben is warned not to come to the funeral by the children’s grandfather (Frank Langhella). Ben refuses to take this lying down however, and packs the kids into their trusty bus – that they have named Steve – and head back to civilisation on a road trip that will change the way they live forever.
THE VERDICT: ‘Captain Fantastic’ is screening in the Un Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival. Directed by Matt Ross, the film is a warm, funny and moving tale about how far one family can truly be removed from the capitalist society they so truly despise.
Viggo Mortensen leads the cast with a wonderful performance as Ben. Strong in his convictions, and love of Noam Chomsky, Ben is a loving father who is not afraid to challenge his children. Mortensen is at once loud and thoughtful in his role; determined to fight “the power”. But always trying to make his children’s lives better. Magnetic, charming and funny, as well as tenacious and kind, Mortensen easily leads this cast to greatness. George McKay plays Bo, the eldest of the children, and the one who is beginning to move away from the isolated life the family leads. McKay makes Bo earnest and sweet, and honest in a way that the people in the “real world” cannot understand. The rest of the children are played by Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell and Trin Miller who are all sweet and warm in their sincere but smaller roles. The rest of the cast features Frank Langhella, Kathryn Hahn, Missi Pyle and Steve Zahn in lovely small turns.
The screenplay, written by director Matt Ross, is quirky and sweet, and never judges Ben for moving his family to a forest and fighting to keep them outside of the system. The dialogue carefully highlights the strengths and weaknesses of living such a secluded life, while also gently and kindly taking a look at the nature of grief and grieving; the ones being lashed out at rarely being the ones who deserve it. The film is a combination of a road movie, a coming of age tale and one about outsiders trying to find a way in, and this mix is woven together in a moving and delightful manner on screen.
As director, Matt Ross keeps the film moving at a steady but engaging pace; there is rarely a moment where the pacing dips, and when it does, it is something that works in favour of this slightly manic and weird family. The performances are sweet and engaging, and feel entirely honest and are often hilarious. The music choices are strong and the cinematography beautiful, rounding ‘Captain Fantastic’ our to a touching and engaging whole. Even though there are times when the film could easily have ended 20 or so minutes before it does, the extra scenes are worth the wait, and have a strong emotional payoff.
In all, ‘Captain Fantastic’ is weird, warm, hilarious and moving, with the entire cast working together in harmony to form a cosy and engaging film. Matt Ross proves himself a director worthy of commendation with this film about love, loss and trying to do what’s right for your family, even if it is not necessarily what is right for you.
RATING: 5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

Cannes Review - Captain Fantastic
Review by Brogen Hayes
5.0Fantastic indeed
  • filmbuff2011

    The suitably named Captain Fantastic is not a superhero movie, but it features a character worthy of being a superhero – to his children anyway, though society might think him otherwise. For this is a story of an unconventional family trying to fit into an unfamiliar world.

    Ben (Viggo Mortensen) has turned his back on modern society and retreated into the woods of the Pacific Northwest with his six children – three boys and three girls. They live off the land by hunting for food. He also ensures daily physical exercise for his children (including mountain climbing!), as well as educational and intellectual education involving the works of Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Noam Chomsky. This is no ordinary family and Ben likes it the way it is – peaceful harmony communing with nature without interference from modern technology and other distractions. His eldest son Bo (George MacKay) has held back news from his father that he’s been admitted to all the Ivy League schools. The suicide of Ben’s wife and the children’s mother draws this unconventional family unit in the natural world out into the open, as they defy the wishes of her father Jack (Frank Langella) and ‘stick it to the man’ by going to the funeral. Heading out in their bus, they go on a cross-country trip which will either change them or reinforce their already dearly-held beliefs, as well as challenging Ben’s notions on what being a parent really means…

    Described by Mortensen as a story of finding balance or rebalance, Captain Fantastic quickly sidesteps any concerns that it’s going to be some hippy, New-Agey lecture on modern families, parenthood and the importance of being one with nature. Writer/director Matt Ross’ script is far smarter than that. In fact, it’s one of the sharpest, most intelligent and most perceptive scripts produced this year – no wonder it drew the attention of Mortensen. It revels in its quirky sense of humour, like the youngest child delivering a speech on the importance of the Bill Of Rights to amazed relatives – a demonstration that education doesn’t have to spoonfed.

    It’s hard to believe that this is only Ross’ second feature. It shows maturity and a level of three-dimensional characterisation that recalls the earlier films of Wes Anderson, without ever feeling false or stretching credulity. That’s partly down to the outstanding performances from all concerned. The always reliable Mortensen is an ideal choice to play a maverick mountain man, but Ben is a character with different shades to him. Is he really doing the right thing for his children? Is hiding the world from his children (rather than the other way around) depriving them of a more rounded education? It’s a thought-provoking question that runs throughout the film. The child actors are more than a match for Mortensen – pure naturals who fit into the story arc and bring it full circle. That joyous two-fingered rush for freedom at the end feels fitting and fully justified, while hinting at some move towards acceptance of the outer world.

    Captain Fantastic revels in its originality – it’s the kind of film that we sadly see too rarely these days. It’s fresh, funny, thought-provoking and makes you re-evaluate what being a parent and being part of a family means – whatever form that may be. It’s undoubtedly a must-see film and is, in a word, fantastic. ****

  • emerb

    “Captain Fantastic” is not the latest comic book film, which you might expect when hearing the title. It is a most enjoyable family drama, a road movie and perhaps even a critique of modern culture. Written and directed by Matt Ross (from “Silicon Valley” and “American Horror Story”), this is a superbly accomplished film which raises questions not only about what it means to be a responsible parent but also non-conformity, principles and the importance of social skills. I loved this charming uncommercial indie film and I can’t imagine anybody would disagree.

    Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is a principled nonconformist, a philosopher, survivalist and intellectual who, together with his wife Leslie (Trin Miller), has taken his family far away from the corrupting influence of American consumer society and they live in the deep forests of the Pacific Northwest. They have homeschooled their children who range in age from 7 to 18 — sons Bo (George MacKay), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell) and daughters Kielyr (Samantha Isler), Vespyr (Annalise Basso) and Zaja (Shree Crooks) and have brought them up to appreciate reading, wildlife, exercise and survival skills.
    They can climb rock faces, hunt deer and protect themselves from threat. Ben wants them ready for whatever is out there. Their off-the-grid home consists of a cosy cabin, a tepee and a tree house. At night, they sit around the campfire making music with harmonicas and guitars.

    However, when tragedy strikes Ben must bring them back into society so they embark on a rather unconventional road trip and find themselves having to adapt to the modern way of life. Loading up their ramshackle bus (named “Steve”), they head off for a long trip to New Mexico where they’re exposed to a world that scares and disgusts but also tempts them. Along the way they encounter Ben’s sympathetic but conventional sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn) and Leslie’s wealthy and intolerant father Jack (Frank Langella), none of whom can fathom their way of living.

    The reason “Captain Fantastic” was such a success for me was the terrific performances from the skilled ensemble of actors. Director Matt Ross has created an endearing but eccentric family and you can’t help but warm to each one. They can discuss the Bill of Rights and “Lolita” with ease, and have secret conversations in Esperanto, but have never seen a computer game and are shocked by the sight of an obese person. Their overnight stay with relatives (Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn) is a real highlight and shows up just how far removed from the modern world the children have become. MacKay as Bodevan, the eldest son, is highly intelligent and dreams of college but he’s so unequipped for romance that he blurts out a wedding proposal on a first date with a young girl, Claire (Erin Moriaty) at a trailer park. The youngest two, Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell), are constant scene stealers, and I found myself chuckling numerous times at their witty dialogue. Nicholas Hamilton is
    also a standout as the rebellious Rellian. Frank Langella and Ann Dowd
    impress as parents who grieve their lost daughter. However, the movie belongs
    to Mortensen and he has been perfectly cast here. In my opinion, this is the best we have seen from him since “Eastern Promises,” which earned him an Oscar nomination. He allows Ben to be arrogant, opinionated and tough but at the same he is a warm, loving and caring father. He is the family rock and, despite the fact that some of his parenting techniques might actually be endangering his children, he just wants the best for them so they can grow up to be independent and successful. The film looks great, whether we are watching the family in the forest or surrounded by malls and golf courses and the story moves at a brisk pace so that it never feels dragged out. “Captain Fantastic” is a real little gem of a movie and I’m fully sure you will agree. Check it out!

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