Star Rating:

Captain Fantastic

Director: Matt Ross

Actors: George MacKay, Samantha Isler

Release Date: Friday 9th September 2016

Genre(s): Drama, Factual

Running time: 118 minutes

In the forests of the Pacific Northwest, a father devoted to raising his six kids with a rigorous physical and intellectual education is forced to leave his paradise and enter the world, challenging his idea of what it means to be a parent.

Looking at Viggo Mortensen's career, it's often quixotic. His most recognisable films are, undoubtedly, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, followed by his trilogy with David Cronenberg; A History Of Violence, Eastern Promises and A Dangerous Method. However, between these, he's made some fascinating films that are completely at odds with other roles and speak to his ability to embody different and conflicting characters with ease. Captain Fantastic sees Mortensen as an all-present father who's raising several children in a truly unique way that does, admittedly, border on cultish.Mortensen's character doesn't pander to the norms of child-rearing. Here, he speaks honestly and directly with his children about the realities of their situation - namely, their mother is severely depressed and, in one heartbreaking scene, informs them of her death by suicide. This provides the impetus for the film as the family sets off to reclaim and honour their mother's unusual burial wishes and, in doing so, sees them chart a path across the country that they themselves have fully removed from.

Mortensen has enough of a presence on screen to carry what is, essentially, a light story with a predictable plot. Hippie family sets out to battle the man, learns along the way. However, what sets Captain Fantastic apart from similar films is that his viewpoint is challenged consistently and so to is ours. You initially view their lifestyle as incredibly odd, but then understand that it serves a purpose and that his children are more than capable of handling themselves. Before long, our own perception of them changes again and on it goes. This consistent changing would make any other film muddled, but here, it works because Mortensen's character is so intransigent that he comes the one constant in the story. He displays a warmth and naturalness that really is great to watch and gives one of the best male performances of the year; easily assuring him an Academy Award nomination.The children all fill out their roles with credibility, but the screenplay doesn't really give them a chance to develop beyond their own subplots. One is angry and bitter about just how different their upbringing is, one of them is secretly planning to leave and head for college whilst the three daughters are all warrior women who won't take crap off anyone. Likewise, Frank Langella enters the film in the third act of the film and is somewhat miscast as the almost-cartoonish grumpy grandfather and is mishandled somewhat.

These are all minor complaints, however, as Matt Ross' screenplay pushes the story along and the various setpieces through the film - meeting Mortensen's sister, raiding a supermarket for food, pretending to be Christian evangelists to avoid police scrutiny - are all mixed together with warmth, intelligence and humour. There aren't any specific moments that allow for Acting™, it's more just a case of building a believable performance through smaller moments and that's why the film works so well. For a director on his second feature-length film, Ross is able to guide a scene with clear and concise editing and the camera just drinks in the colours of the forest paradise where they live. As they leave it behind, the world still pops with colours here and there, but it becomes somewhat more muted as they eventually reach the end of the journey.

Overall, Captain Fantastic is a well-made family drama with a strong central performance by Mortensen. Expect to see this mentioned come Oscars season.