Captain Fantastic takes us deep into the forests of the US Pacific Northwest, where Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and Leslie (Trin Miller) have, for the last decade, been living off the grid in self-imposed isolation and raising their six children how they see fit. However, after tragedy strikes, the family are forced out of the forest and confront the world they have been hiding from, which leads an engrossing and enthralling drama centred on what happens when idealism crashes into reality.
Questioning anyone’s parenting choices (especially out loud) is a dangerous game and writer/director Matt Ross toys with our preconceptions and forces us to face them head on. Ross does not rush the story, nor much like Ben, does he feel the need to justify why the family are living how they are. Instead, Ross develops the narrative with confronting scenes which both justify and challenge their chosen lifestyle. These cause you to sympathise and support their choices while at the same time desperately try to subdue the urge to scream aloud ‘what are you doing to these children?!’
There is no question that the family are a feisty, self-contained bunch, with a clear ‘power to the people, stick it to The Man’ family mantra. Furthermore, while this is an ensemble piece, Ross neatly weaves in enough character development to establish both the individuals and the group bond.
Viggo Mortensen is exceptional. Samantha Isler and George MacKay, two of the older children, bring an impressive physicality to their roles, which while markedly different, both manage to convey extraordinary emotion, humour and a chilling reality. I know from experience that younger children have a talent for brutal honesty, and this is used well with a few truly scene-stealing moments from some of the youngest cast members.
An impressive and numerous supporting cast includes Frank Langella, Missi Pyle, Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn, acting as something of a group audience surrogate, who capture and verbally announce what we have all been thinking. While cathartic for the audience, this also leads to some of the best scenes in the film, where the realities and repercussions of the family’s choices and actions come crashing home.
While the third act may be a little too neat, you cannot help but feel this slight indulgence has been earned, as Captain Fantastic is gorgeously shot, poignantly penned, fiercely acted, and is well, pretty damn fantastic. It is one of the best films of the year and worthy of a trip out of the woods to watch.
Captain Fantastic is currently showing in limited sessions at Palace Electric.