By: Oberst von Berauscht (Two Beers) –
Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) lives with his children in the woods “off the grid”. He spends days training his kids in survival techniques and home schooling them feverishly. When news comes in that his wife, long since committed to a mental hospital, has taken her life, Ben wants to attend the funeral. He is rebuffed by her father Jack (Frank Langella), who blames Ben for his daughter’s mental state. Jack threatens to use legal action to remove the children from Ben’s custody. Ben and the children defy the threats and embark on a road trip, which shows the children how different the outside world truly is.
Captain Fantastic opens with a brutal and beautifully-shot scene in which the eldest teen son Bodevan (George McKay) hunts and kills a deer with nothing more than a knife, while the rest of the family watches. Ben treats this as a right of passage, certifying that his son is ready and has become a man. Several scenes later Bodevan is walking in the nearby town struggling in vain to deal with the comparatively simple task of talking to girls his own age. When the film focuses on these contrasts, the film excels, and thankfully the film is full of these moments. One of the film’s highlights is a sequence when Ben and family stop over at the home of a relative (Steve Zahn) and family, who live a normal suburban life.
The cinematography in Captain Fantastic is nothing less than stunning, with sprawling outdoor shots highlighting the beauty of nature. This works to emphasize the Cash family’s devotion to their life out in the woods.
As soon as they venture indoors, the camera moves in closer and becomes claustrophobic.
The film’s chief highlight is the cast. Viggo Mortensen is at his best as Ben, who he plays as a stern and often hardheaded man who loves his family deeply. His struggle to live against the grain is partially liberal socialist streak but mostly some kind of unspoken personal vendetta against the world. He mocks religion, and teaches his children to instead worship Noam Chomsky (Literally, “Noam Chomsky Day” is their Christmas gift-giving celebration). Frank Langella is wonderful in the unforgiving role as Ben’s straight-laced foil. Clearly the pair have had more than their share of political differences in the past, and both have allowed it to encroach on their real goal, which is to ensure that the children are taken care of as best as can be provided. The children in the cast are all uniformly excellent, never feeling overly sentimental and each is given their own unique character traits.
The delight with which the Cash family monologues about the system they are avoiding becomes a bit tiring at times, and there is never any room left for middle ground. The feeling you get is that the film’s writer-director Matt Ross fell in love with the utopian “off the grid” ethos and wanted to point out how crazy and unbalanced real society is. This comes off heavy-handed at times, though it is thankfully tempered by the otherwise solid script and a few times in the film when the real implications of their actions are laid bare.
Captain Fantastic’s last act is full of false-endings, with a late twist that makes the story feel overlong and doesn’t measurably change the film’s themes. It also feels a bit unearned, as the actions and consequences of character actions are rendered null by the twist. It feels forced-in to give the movie a more optimistic view of the future, despite the facts of the actions of some characters that would suggest otherwise.
Although the drama feels a bit soapy at times ‘Captain’ is nearly as ‘Fantastic’ as it promises.
Captain Fantastic (2016) Drinking Game
Take a Drink: whenever one of the kids quote literature or reference a literary figure/author
Take a Drink: for knife-usin’
Drink a Shot: for fish out of water humor
Drink a Shot: for Noam Chomsky day!