Captain Fantastic – Movie Review
Rating: B- (Okay)
Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy eOne Films
It can be tricky reviewing a film that, while technically well-done from a production standpoint, has some confused ideologies. Captain Fantastic seems like it wants the audience to agree with the main character’s ideas of parenting and teaching, but he’s at no point sympathetic and he’s completely out of touch with reality. Admittedly, he wants no place in society, but it’s when dragging in children who have no choice, that’s when things become a problem. This is a film where one is more likely to root for the “antagonists” than the so-called heroes. Director/writer Matt Ross clearly put a lot of thought into the arguments being presented, but it’s hard to agree with the themes.
Viggo Mortensen’s hermit father Ben is somebody who is confident he is doing the right thing for his offspring. However, it’s clear from the outset he’s just molding them to become copies of himself rather than individuals with real childhoods and bright futures. A lot of his actions are completely self-serving and only exist to fulfill his own desires and delusions of the world. When he starts talking about the dangers of the outside world and decreeing capitalism, he doesn’t sound like a reasonable person, but is instead a lunatic with allusions of grandeur. His children come across as far more smarter than him, not because of the history lessons and adult-leaning books he has made them read. Rather, they are smarter because they want to explore and try new things outside of their huts and rabbit hunts.
The only sympathetic character is Frank Langella as Ben’s father-in-law Jack. His actions are completely understandable and it’s difficult not to root for him to win custody of Ben and his late wife’s children. Captain Fantastic thankfully never paints him as a moustache-twirling villain. Unlike Ben, Jack operates within the law and has every legal right to be their guardian. One is almost confused if Matt Ross intended Jack to be an antagonist or not, because he is actually the hero of the story. The children seem like they’re thrust into this situation, but the actions of some of them seem to change on a whim, depending on what the plot demands of them.
From a pure filmmaking standpoint, Matt Ross does a decent job of making something that feels straight out of the early ‘70s counterculture movement of cinema. The actors are all strong. Langella gives the best performance of the bunch, but the children deserve credit for bringing some form of naturalism to their roles. One of the better scenes is a funny one in which they pretend to be a religious cult. Despite the way his character is written and the sheer unlikeability of Ben, Mortensen never goes too over-the-top with his portrayal. He makes it believable he would feel so strongly about his system of parenting, no matter how wrong-headed it is.
Captain Fantastic is a film where one’s enjoyment will depend on whether one agrees with the actions of its lead. What one may consider damaging to a child’s psyche, others will see as perfectly suitable in raising a young mind. There’s just something confusing about what Ross wants to say here and whether he 100% agrees with Ben’s point of view. Some viewers may wish the ending did turn into a heated court case for custody. That’s certainly the most realistic route the film could have taken. Captain Fantastic certainly fits into the stereotype of Sundance movies that are maybe a little bit twee and a tad full of themselves.