Thursday, April 20, 2017

Captain Fantastic: Not So Fantastic

Movie Review: Captain Fantastic (2016)
Version: Library Borrow

My wife and I are huge fans of Viggo Mortensen. Some of the movies he has appeared in have been a little strange, but he has also been in some great films  (Lord of the Ring trilogy, Hidalgo, Witness, to name just a few). Captain Fantastic falls in line with the former group, the strange ones. It says something about his strength as an actor that despite the subject matter he was Oscar nominated for the lead role, however.

Mortensen plays Ben, the father of a small group of kids estranged from their mother by illness. All their young lives they have lived off the grid, forced there by their parents' devotion to total honesty and living apart from the dangers of a society too hung up on technology, a divorce from nature, and the greed of capitalism. When the mother was forced into hospitalization by her illness, Ben had become the single parent to boys and girls -- one a teenager becoming ready to explore the world on his own terms -- teaching them how to live by nature's rules while schooling them in everything they might need to know in a modern world. When the mother dies, Ben and his family must cross a divide wider than the outback where they live to realize her last requests to reality, opposed by their mother's bitterly reluctant father. It becomes a mission to Ben and his children, but one they come to realize may cost them their safety and their family.

Most of the cast features minor actors. Only Viggo Mortensen and Frank Langella, who plays the difficult father-in-law, are recognizable talent. But the acting is well done. It's the plot and story line that are strange, making the film not so fantastic. The film opens with one of the younger boys leaping onto a deer and cutting its throat. He is rewarded in a coming-of-age ceremony by eating the deer's fresh heart. Ben explains sex to his youngest daughter as if she were a mature child. When Ben and his kids visit family on the way to the mother's funeral, Ben contradicts the host parents, giving the full details of his wife's health problems in front of the protective host family's children. Ben's family travels by a school bus converted into a travel home but they have limited money, so they fund their trip by stealing, which he excuses by turning it into a game of sticking it to capitalism. When one of the children runs away from their family to be with the grandparents, Ben sends his young daughter into physical danger to climb onto the slick clay-tile roof and enter the home to bring the boy back. While you have to admire the father for his devotion to honesty and search for living close to nature, the journey the family is on is dangerous, and that in the end becomes the reality that Ben and his family find they can't live with.

I like unusual stories, those involving complex and unusual characters played by great actors with deep range. But honestly, I found this film difficult to watch. It was "way out there" on many levels. I can kind of see why Mortensen was nominated for an Oscar, but I have found him more likable in other roles far more suitable for the nomination.

As I've said earlier, I don't like giving lackluster reviews for books or films, but I can't give my wholehearted support to Captain Fantastic. I can see it becoming a cult classic one day. But I can't see recommending it as a top pick of must-see films if you have a list. Let me know if you disagree.

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