There have been a lot of really solid to great smaller movies this year (Sing Street, Hell or High Water, Swiss Army Man), whereas the big blockbusters have been lacking. Captain Fantastic, starring Viggo Mortensen and directed by Matt Ross is another example of this trend.
Mortensen played Ben, the father of six children of varying age, who had taken them with his wife and went into the wilderness to live away from the capitalistic society. However, the wife suffered from a disease that required hospitalization. leaving him alone to tend the kids. When she died, the family heads off to her funeral, against the wishes of her father (Frank Langella).
This is really a road trip movie, following the kids and Ben on their trip to see their mother’s funeral. Having seen the trailers, I think they kind of made this look like a different film. The last half hour or so is what the trailers made me believe that the film would be about, but the bulk of the movie takes place either in the woods of the Pacific Northwest or on the trip to the funeral.
I really liked the first part of the film, and I found the relationships between Ben and his kids to be both sweet and original. Ben would not lie to his kids, bluntly answering any questions they may have had or giving exact information to them. As a survivalist family, Ben is gifting the kids big knives and bows and arrows, taking them hunting and rock climbing, and forcing them to be able to take care of themselves. He was also home schooling the kids, providing a solid background of knowledge and forcing them to analyze what they read.
I especially liked the relationship between Ben and son Rellian (Nicolas Hamilton) because the film teased tension between the pair throughout. You could tell that something was going on and young Hamilton does a very good job opposite Mortensen of showing the rage that had been building inside of him. Unfortunately, the pay off of that storyline just seemed to fall a bit flat for me.
That is also the biggest issue I have with the film. The ending of this really felt forced and did not feel earned. This flipped too quickly for it to be believable and the end became a sugary-saccharine sweet ending that went against the gritty and intelligent feel of the rest of the movie. From the point after Viggo shaved off his beard, Captain Fantastic turned into a basic, happy-go-lucky film with typical results and events that did not make much sense in the overall arc of the narrative.
And there was little typical about these characters or this story until that point. The first 2/3 of Captain Fantastic was just that…fantastic. It was riveting, original and bold. There were genuine laughter and really unexpected moments between a group of characters who loved one another and were thriving in their situation. Viggo Mortensen was just exceptional throughout the film, and he had great chemistry with all of the young actors playing his children.
There was a danger of the film becoming too preachy about its anti-consumerism message, as well as messages against education, police, society and politics. However, the film does a solid job of tiptoeing the line without ever actually crossing over into preachiness.
Captain Fantastic is fun and witty, very funny and mostly charming. It features some really strong performances, particularly from Viggo Mortensen. It just seemed that the ending of the film did not reach the heights set in the films first two acts. Even still, Captain Fantastic is an extremely enjoyable family road movie.