Film Review – Captain Fantastic (2016)

Captain Fantastic Cropped
Going in, you might be forgiven for having some reservations given the films score and having Sundance Selected Film amongst its indie credentials. There’s a danger that it might end up being too much of a hazy golden shimmer indie flick, overly trite on the dialogue… a style over substance affair. But (and it’s a big but) may you leave most of your doubt at the opening credits. There is enough human connection, and subtlety in the storytelling of Captain Fantastic that it is worth your time.

We are introduced to Ben (Viggo Mortensen) who is single handedly raising his six children in the wilderness. A family emergency determines that they have to travel into mainland America, compromising their somewhat unconventional ideas, often with funny consequences. Fundamentally, the narrative plays off traditional hunter-gatherer self-educated and free-thinking ideals against the harsh consumerist and religious American heartlands. It’s an outsider comedy drama, with the right balance of humour and grace.

At times the scenes look Wes Anderson-y with the fine details in the costume. The problematic family relationships make up another similarity here. Another fairly obvious film to compare that leaps out is Little Miss Sunshine; we follow a dysfunctional family on an unlikely trip across America in an old vehicle. Also, in a similar way, the film manages to draw rich characters with whom we make close connections with. It seems the “heart warming, beautiful” indie film we are promised from the posters, is pretty dependant on that.

The narrative holds up despite demands of a huge suspension of disbelief. If you go with it, it will carry you through for the full two hours. There are enough laughs, fragments of poignant emotion, and anger built in to each character’s narrative, that it speaks on multiple levels at the same time. This makes it a real joy to watch.

We get some fantastic performances too. Mortensen in the lead role, never understating the urgent nuances of expressed anger and resentment. His character displaying an overblown contempt for societal status quo. George MacKay is Bo, the eldest of the offspring, whose need for independence is at times desperate, yet always naturalistic. This is played brilliantly by MacKay. What’s great about the film though is that it is as much the story of Bo, or Ben, as it is the story of the youngest, 7-year-old Nai (Charlie Shotwell) or any of the other central cast. They each have equal parts, the film being the sum of those.

Sure, we get some questionable filmic choices. The dialogue topper lines such as “stick it to the man” mightn’t be needed, and (without being too spoilerific) there’s even an acoustic cover of a Guns N Roses song. In different hands you would need to scrape off this layer of cheese, but the narrative development is so well considered, really anything is justified by the time we get to the end credits.

[rating=5]|Zach Roddis

Comedy, Drama | USA, 2016 | 15 | Entertainment One | 9th September 2016 (UK) |Dir.Matt Ross | Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso,Frank Langella, Steve Zahn, Missi Pyle