A family raised in the wild has to return to civilisation.
Viggo Mortensen heads the bill in this family drama which sees the actor continuing to choose roles that are far removed from conventional cinema.
His Ben is the father of a brood of six children, some approaching adulthood, who he has been raising in the wilderness for a number of years. The early scenes set the stage with a wild life that’s part idyll and part dictatorship with a side serving of ruthlessness.
Director Matt Ross (who is also an actor in everything from American Psycho to Silicon Valley) kicks it all off with an act of sudden brutality that serves as a perfect opening for what’s to come. Ben’s life lessons are always sharp, even cruel, with a focus on the practical that colours his relationship with his kids.
These are complex characters with equally intricate emotions and connections, and that’s the most impressive aspect of Captain Fantastic. This isn’t a story of clear cut right and wrong and as the film progresses it becomes harder to decide where our allegiances might lie.
Mortensen is key to this overarching ambiguity. He’s a naturally charismatic performer, and the unchallenged leader of this brave new clan. But when he’s forced to deal with the regular world again new layers are revealed and questions start to emerge.
He’s matched by a gang of impressive younger performers, including vets like Brit George McKay (Pride). Even the youngest are engaging on screen, with naturalistic performances. And if they’re all a tad too photogenic, well maybe that’s just good genes.
If it all sounds like a dark and melodramatic time at the cinema that’s thankfully not the case. Ross’ script is full of comedy both broad and sharp, creating a heady mix with the more dramatic moments.
Captain Fantastic is a very clever film in the way it shows two worlds clashing and manages to condemn and commend at the same time. It does descend into pretentiousness from time to time but even these moments might be keenly self aware. Highly recommended.