Posted Sep 13 2016

Captain Fantastic - This Movie Alt Rocks (With Flaws)

Dir: Matt Ross

Starring Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Katherine Hahn, Steve Zahn

Viggo Mortensen’s Captain Fantastic – the man – is a lovely but flawed man. Matt Ross’s Captain Fantastic – the movie – is a lovely but flawed film. And the flaw lies in the good Captain himself (with no offence to Elton John.) Mortensen delivers one of his very best performances as the man who lives off the grid and raises his kids to survive, both physically and intellectually, in a hostile world. But that hostile world is nowhere in sight in Ross’s film. Neither is a clear view of Viggo’s Captain. Is he a genuine survivalist? (If so, why and for what reason?) Is he just a great dad with a unique approach? (The disquiet in his family seems to suggest not.) Is he just an out of time hippie with a malformed sense of lost idealism? (Seems closest – but still never fully realised or even explained.) Hell, is he the next Charles Manson cultivating his own “family” – commendably, a notion the film doesn’t shy away from.

He is – and this is obviously intentional on both Ross and Mortensen’s part – a deliberately ambiguous mix of all of the above. But such contradictions do not a viable, understandable character make. Indeed, if it were not for the sheer charisma and ability of Mortensen our uber-Dad Captain Fantastic would come across as, well, a bit of a wanker. At best.

But because of the integrity of his performance, that is not the case. (Kudos too, to George MacKay, who brilliantly moves from genuine innocence to teenage all-fucked-up with a beautifully deft touch here.)

Captain Fantastic – the movie that is – looks at an alternative lifestyle protagonist but doesn’t seem to support his choices. Which is fine, as the film looks at how that lifestyle is undone and re-evaluated as a result. It is funny at times, beautifully moving at others – three wordless sequences dotted throughout convey the closeness of family more than words ever could. And when words are indeed needed, a lovely Sweet Child O’ Mine more than does the job.

But the third act threatens to undo all the good work that goes before. Read literally it simply doesn’t work. Read as an idyllic, almost fabalistic resolution - it’s a lot better. But still doesn’t quite work. Which is a shame, because so much of Captain Fantastic does indeed border on the fantastic.


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