From the very opening scene, Captain Fantastic boasts a script soaked in originality (and in this given scene, plenty of blood). It tells the tale of a father and his six children living a bohemian lifestyle in a utopian setting, based in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest. Secluded from what father Ben (Viggo Mortensen) determines as an uncivilised society (“under-educated and over-medicated” to use his exact words), the family form their own self-sufficient social construct in the depths of the forest, where they are taught elementary survival skills, such as hunting, climbing, animal skinning and basic first aid. The children have received no formal education, and have been brought up on their parent’s left-wing ideologies.
Captain Fantastic is an ambitious step for director Matt Ross, and is only his second feature film to date (his debut being the romantic drama 28 Hotel Rooms (2012)). In Ross’s case, it is certainly a step in the right direction and the end result is a refreshingly different and heart-warming film. While the storyline touches on complex issues in modern US society such as consumer culture and obesity, the plot evidently revolves around the family unit and the family’s struggle to adapt to changes brought upon them by the loss of the children’s mother (Trin Miller) at the start of the film.
Viggo Mortensen provides an outstanding lead performance, contributing greatly to the rounding of his character. Differing slightly from what was originally scripted, Ross praised the 57-year old for his interpretation of the character Ben, calling it an improvement on what was first proposed. Mortensen’s relationship with the six young actors playing his children was so close that they reportedly came to call him “Summer Dad” during filming.
However, Mortensen does not deserve all the credit; he was backed by a group of extremely promising and capable young actors, ranging from kindergarten age to early 20’s. The eldest, George MacKay, displays a strong performance as Mortensen’s oldest son (Bo) and has already made appearances in Defiance (2008) and the mini-series adaptation of Stephen Kings’ 11.22.63 (2016-) to name but a few. As well as these performances, both the soundtrack and stunning visuals bring an aspect of authenticity to the screen, which is notable particularly in the former half of the film, set primarily in the wilderness.
Although 2016 will undoubtedly be remembered as a year of turmoil and political unrest, Captain Fantastic is a gem to be salvaged from the wreck, making it my top pick of 2016. James Holohan