Movie Review: “Captain Fantastic” – Unbelievably Believable

Written by Matt Butler September 09, 2016


There is only one thing misleading about the title Captain Fantastic: It’s not just about the captain, but also his crew; his children. It really should be called The Fantastics (or maybe The Fantastic Seven?). It’s not even that boastful, the word fantastic is, after all, likened with wild, irrational, absurd, and nonsensical (kind of like Fant4stic). Anyone who met this family, anyone who saw the way they live, would use words like that, but it’s my argument that most people who saw this movie will just stick with ‘fantastic’.

The title does bring up a compelling question: Is Captain Fantastic trying to convince the audience that this family, more specifically its father, is above other families and fathers? Is this film meant to call awareness to the corporate capitalist America’s corruption of the family dynamic? First off, answering your own questions does wonders for the ego. Second off, no. Certain gags in the film will have you convinced this is a film made by hipsters for hipsters, including the Cash family’s first encounter with suburban Americans: “Why are they all so fat?”, but Captain Fantastic is not about to persuade you that the Cash’s are Family of the Year, though they do take the expected knock at the Judeo-Christian family, often to hilarious and pointed effect. But Captain Fantastic is really an even-handed affair, which is one of its most impressive feats. The Cash’s are cohesive enough and self-sustaining enough to get you rooting for their ways, but their ways are also radical enough and dangerous enough that you see the validity of an opposing perspective. I use ‘enough’ a lot here because balance is a cruciality with Captain Fantastic. The key is believability, we need to believe that this man can raise his six children in the backwoods on nothing but survival skills and communist literature, but we also need to believe that his intentions are sane. Notice I said ‘sane’, not ‘correct’ (I think this review is quickly becoming a crossword puzzle).

captain fantastic

The Cash clan (left to right, Zaja (SHREE CROOKS), Nai (CHARLIE SHOTWELL), Bodevan (GEORGE MACKAY), Rellian (NICHOLAS HAMILTON),  Kielyr (SAMANTHA ISLER) and Vespyr (ANNALISE BASSO)) are the heart and soul of the film.

What we’re doing out here is so incredible. The kids are amazing.

Viggo Mortensen plays the titular character, though only referred on screen as Ben Cash. Much like his character, Mortensen is given a demanding task, making this man and this movie feel believable. It takes a performance that is paradoxically hot and cold, reasonable and radical. The same goes for Frank Langella‘s character, Jack, Ben’s father-in-law, and the sympathetic ‘antagonist’ of the film. Ben and Jack come from two ends of the same issue, the suicide of Leslie (Trin Miller), Ben’s wife and Jack’s daughter. Ben, and the kids, seek to fulfill her dying wishes for an obscure burial ceremony, and Jack wants stability, which may mean pulling his grandchildren away from their father’s influence. As an audience member, you understand and sympathize with both parties and where they’re coming from, which right then and there is a sign of mastery in acting, writing and directing.

captain fantastic

A familiar face, GEORGE MACKAY embodies the timid and troubled Bodevan just by the timid and troubled look in his eyes.

Power to the people. Stick it to the man.

I do wish we did get just a sliver more time to know the kids more. The movie goes about saying each child has a name that no one else in the world has (Nai (Charlie Shotwell), Zaja (Shree Crooks), Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), Vespyr (Annalise Basso), Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Bodevan (George MacKay)) and if the five red lines on my computer screen are any indication, then that’s true (Nai’s the exception). But by the end of the movie, you’d still need IMDB to even remember the first letter of each name. Though I suppose if Captain Fantastic did get too deep into name dropping -next time you watch any movie or tv show, take count of how many times characters refer to each other by name, Titanic is a mad culprit for this- they could have risked bringing on a pretentious feel. Most of the focus is upon Bodevan and Rellian, who share a growing disconnect with their father’s ways. Again, I pull my punches, because both boys are at that stage in their lives when they struggle with independence, though the actors certainly never struggle for a fantastic performance (which applies to the entire Cash family). I just wish we spent even a minute’s more time with the rest of the family, which is really more compliment than criticism.

captain fantastic

VIGGO MORTENSEN brings a performance that places him as the king amongst philosopher kings.

My face is mine. My hands are mine. My mouth is mine. But I am not. I am yours.

I’ve had my frustrations with the Hyland Theatre’s lineup of indie films before (don’t get me started on Irrational Man…) but Captain Fantastic brought me back to just how wonderful indie cinema can be. It avoids the bland cliche-bashing non-conformities and welcomes undisguised, detailed pragmatism. It acknowledges the dangers of its hero, but doesn’t shy away from the witty slams on the modern family. Captain Fantastic lives up to its name, along with several others, namely ‘bold’ and ‘beautiful’.

My Rating: 9.5/10captain-fantastic-1021x580

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About Matt Butler

Matt Butler

Matt Butler is a strapping young English Major with a fiery passion for the art of cinematic storytelling. He likes long walks on the beach and knows the proper use of 'your' and 'you're'. (Example: I hope YOU'RE having a wonderful time browsing our site, and I hope you enjoy YOUR time reading my film reviews. I wrote them just for you.)

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