Movie Review: Captain Fantastic (2016)

“Family values. Power to the people. Stick it to the man.”

3 Stars
Captain Fantastic (2016)

Captain Fantastic (2016)


Director: Matt Ross

Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler

Synopsis: A father who raises his six children in isolation from the civilised world is forced to re-evaluate his philosophies when the family is temporarily force to reconnect with modern-day America.

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In its opening act, Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic unquestioningly accepts the extreme counter-culture lifestyle followed by Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen – The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Hidalgo) and his brood of six children as a valid alternative to conventional methods of child rearing.   Ben encourages his offspring to not merely regurgitate the facts they learn, but to form an opinion about them.   During the day, he trains them in physical activities such as rock climbing and hand-to-hand combat at their home amongst the largely untamed forests of the Pacific Northwest, while at night they read classic literature and political tracts around the campfire.   It seems like an ideal lifestyle for Ben, and a positive upbringing for his children, but when the death of their mother (Trina Miller) forces them to return temporarily to civilisation for her funeral, her grieving father’s concerns for the welfare of the children forces Ben to re-evaluate his philosophies.

There’s little doubt about Ross’s favourable attitude towards Ben’s unconventional upbringing of his children.   Modern America is depicted as a land of fast-food outlets and shopping malls haunted by faceless, obese consumers, and Ben’s father-in-law(Frank Langella – Unknown, Robot & Frank) is a multi-millionaire whose palatial mansion could not be further removed from the Cash’s ramshackle home in the forest.   Ben’s high-minded philosophies might struggle to find an answer to his father-in-law’s implacable pragmatism, but the film’s idyllic conclusion – which might conceivably be Ben’s idealised fantasy – leaves us in no doubt that Ross believes his protagonist’s ideals are preferable to the pampered but soulless existence of the mainstream.

Whether you agree with him will largely determine how much enjoyment you get out of Captain Fantastic.   It’s kind of ironic that most people would be physically incapable of living by the hippy credo of ‘power to the people’ and ‘stick it to the man,’ and a little sad that to bring up our kids in this way could leave oneself open to charges of child abuse, but while Ross seems to favour Ben’s opinions over those of his father-in-law, he’s also careful to show how easy it is for his lifestyle to tip over into recklessness and crime.   Ben makes an agreeable father figure most of the time, but there’s a hard edge to him, a rigid adherence to his principles that you makes you wonder where his priorities lie.

Slow-moving, character-driven, intelligent and thoughtful, Captain Fantastic provides a welcome alternative to the endless parade of mindless tentpole blockbusters Hollywood churns out each month.

(Reviewed 28th October 2016)





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