I love Viggo Mortensen. Need I say more? However, after the Lord of the Rings franchise, it was pretty hard pressed to find him in another movie. Not saying that he wasn’t working, but whereas most actors will work on multiple movies a year, Mortensen pretty much worked on only one film a year and his most notable roles can be can counted on one hand. HIDALGO, EASTERN PROMISES, THE ROAD, HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, and APPALOOSA. Some of those movies weren’t exactly well-received from critics either. Well, after a long hiatus without him, I’m ecstatic to see him on the big screen again, even in an indie format. And yeah, this movie looked interesting. Maybe I didn’t have the highest of expectations about whether or not it was going to as good as the critics were making it out to be, but I was allured by the story anyway. So without further adieu, this is my honest opinion of CAPTAIN FANTASTIC.
The story follows Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his six children, his eldest son Bo (George MacKay), his eldest daughters Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Vespyr (Annalise Basso), younger son Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), and his youngest children Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell). They live out in the woods where they have lived with their father for the last decade or so, living carefree. But not without discipline, constantly training their bodies through exercise, and their minds via reading books. This has translated to the children to being very fit and impressively intelligent. But tragedy strikes as their beloved mother, who was committed to a hospital, killed herself. Her family, unable to accept the lifestyle that Ben and his wife chose for their family, is not willing to respect her wishes as a Buddhist, to be cremated and ashes scattered, but rather to bury her. To make matters worse, Ben’s wife’s father Jack (Frank Langella) issued a direct warning to Ben that if he made an appearance at the funeral, the police would be notified and possibly result in the children being taken away from him. But a family decision is made to defy their grandfather and find their mother and take it upon themselves to respect their mother’s wishes, even her family won’t.
The movie more than lives up to it’s name. It’s fantastic.
Oh my dear sweet gentle Jesus, where do I begin? I like to talk about actors, so I’ll get that out of the way. Yes, Mortensen is phenomenal and is probably a career best. This is saying a lot because it’s hard to get his role as Aragorn from the Lord of the Rings franchise out of my head. Ben is one of the best written characters I’ve seen this entire year, and probably one of the best written parents I’ve ever seen. When he finds out that his wife and mother of their children committed suicide, he doesn’t wait until the end or the middle of the movie, he gathers them up in the next scene and is straightforward and honest with them. He straight-up tells them that she killed herself. This is unbelievably refreshing. Any conventional movie would make the character try and hold back information or try to sugar-coat it in some way. For once, someone has the balls to not underestimate the strength of their children and be honest with them, no matter how difficult it is to understand. Suicide isn’t something even adults can always fully comprehend and everyone has their own thoughts and their own reactions to it and this film portrays that very well. Most will rightfully shed their tears and look for someone to hold for comfort, and others will get angry and cast blame.
The story itself is also worth talking about because it’s unique. I don’t think there’s ever quite been a story like this before. I mean look at the summary. Kids raised in the wilderness, mother dies, mother’s parents ignore her final wishes of cremation and opt for burial, the children and their father see it as a rescue to respect the wishes her parents won’t. It’s an incredibly interesting idea. Sure, it’s got road-trip and fish-out-of-water elements, but they’re not dwelled on if these are cliches that you don’t like.
But the real gem of the film is in how challenging it is. What do I mean? Well, you can probably guess from the trailer. One of the biggest conflicts of the story is Ben constantly questioned about the life he chose for his children. For example, there’s a scene with Ben talking to Harper (Kathryn Haun) and Dave (Steve Zhan). The two parents confront Ben about their opinion of how his kids should be living their lives, going to public schools and getting a proper education. Funny thing is, Ben calls down their two sons and asks them if they know what the Bill of Rights is. Both give… very thin answers to say the least, and these boys are twelve, maybe thirteen years old. In order to prove his point that his children are educated, he brings in one of youngest children who can not only recite the Bill of Rights, but can in detail explain what it is. This child “just turned eight.” Yeah, that’s impressive for a kid that age. Hell, I’m twenty-seven years old and I just figured out what the Bill of Rights was just a few minutes ago (it’s the first ten amendments in the Constitution). It’s hard not to watch a scene like this and start thinking about what everyone might consider conventional. Maybe this sort of thing hits me particularly hard because I grew up in a family that showers each other in what their lives are and comparing themselves to everyone else. They’re not bad people, but when a differing opinion is offered, they look at you like you’re weird. When you try to challenge them to justify their own beliefs, they give half-assed answers, if you can even call them answers, and expect the conversation to end there. This is my kind of story about characters that embrace and thrive off of what others won’t understand.
I suppose if there’s anything to nitpick is that occasionally, the kids ask something like, “What’s Cola?” Even though Ben jokingly (or not jokingly, depending on how you want to interpret it) says that it’s poisoned water, it just kind of baffles me that these kids that can recite the Bill of Rights aren’t privy to even the word of “Cola.” And it really is never truly explained why the parents don’t care about their daughter’s final wishes, making Langella’s character a clear and obvious bad-guy, even though many might say that there is no real bad guy; Jack is just mourning his daughter and doing what he feels is right. Ehh, that’s never expressed. He almost seems like he’s doing all of this to spite Ben.
But honestly, these are pretty nitpicky things and, to be perfectly honest, do not take away from the story’s warmth and intelligence, not just in academic facts, but in how it tells its story and the characters it revolves around. I know there’s going to be a lot of people who won’t even know this movie exists. After all, it’s an independent film and a lot of movie-goers out there won’t want to make effort in looking for a movie not immediately in the mainstream, but guys… please, see it. It’s one of the best movies of the year and shouldn’t be missed out on.
My honest rating: 5/5
- MIKE AND DAVE NEED WEDDING DATES
- THE SECRET LIFE OF PETS