Saturday movie review: Captain Fantastic

For the record, I'm a big fan of Viggo Mortensen. I think he's one of the more subtly amazing yet underrated and too often overlooked actors out there. So when I read that he received a Best Actor nomination for his role in CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, I thought, Well good for him! It's about time.

I then immediately thought, But that's certainly not a film I'll be watching. Because I don't care much for super hero movies and having seen no trailers or such, that's what I figured it was.

Captain Fantastic movie

I'm here to confess I'm an idiot. Not because I don't like super hero movies, but because CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is so very not a super hero story despite the super hero sound of the title. CAPTAIN FANTASTIC is a super dad story. A story about a good dad with good intentions. A brilliant dad with grandiose ideas when it comes to life in general and raising his kids in particular. Lofty ideas. So lofty, in fact, they border on lunacy.

And Viggo Mortensen does an insanely fantastic job portraying that extraordinary papa. Yes indeed, good for him on his nomination for the role. Well deserved.

In the comedy/drama CAPTAIN FANTASTIC, Mortensen plays Ben, who with his wife Leslie (Trin Miller) chose to raise their six children off the grid in the wild woods of Washington State. They refuse to allow their children to become part of the fascist, commercialized Western society, instead teaching them — from home and from an early age — extreme critical thinking skills, extreme survival skills, non-conformance and celebration of intelligence.

The kids embrace the lifestyle. For the most part. Until Mom dies (*not a spoiler*) and Dad and his kiddos must venture into the real world for the sake of saving Mom from a final farewell she would have railed against and honor her Buddhist ideals instead.


A few of the things I found most fantastic about CAPTAIN FANTASTIC:

• Viggo Mortensen — He made Ben tough and committed yet kind and loving. And heartbroken. And hilarious at times, yet horrifically blind to reality at others. A brave, quietly fierce performance.

• The kids (from oldest to youngest): George MacKay, Annalise Basso, Samantha Isler, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell — Each one offered amazing moments, strong monologues of varying sorts. Their performances were as brilliant as the youngsters they played, and clearly one of the reasons the entire cast was nominated for the Screen Actors Guild Outstanding Performance By A Cast In A Motion Picture.

• Ann Dowd as Grandma — Dowd played the kids' maternal grandmother, Abigail. She loved her grandkiddos to the core and wanted to do right by them but "right" was relative and quite unclear. A soft complement to crotchety, monied Grandpa Jack, played perfectly by Frank Langella.

• The laugh-out-loud OH MY GOSH! moments —He's wearing that? He's saying that? He makes them do that? A kid saying that? And, oh my gosh, they're really gonna do that? CAPTAIN FANTASTIC was full of unbelievable bits... that somehow played fantastically believable considering the players.

• The music — I have never loved Axl Rose of Guns N Roses. I loved beyond belief the scene in which the kids break into GNR's "Sweet Child O' Mine" (no Axl in sight... or sound). So. Beautiful.

• The accolades for the film — In addition to Mortensen's Best Actor Oscar nomination, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC was nominated for 39 other film awards (and won 12).

More on this film that quickly became one of my favorites:

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC (rated R "for language and brief graphic nudity") is definitely not a super hero movie. It definitely is a fantastic movie. The film premiered at the 2016 Sundance Film Festival and is now available on DVD, Blu-ray and streaming services. Learn more on the official CAPTAIN FANTASTIC website.