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ADVANCE: Captain Fantastic - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
ADVANCE: Captain Fantastic
Directing: B+
Acting: B+
Writing: B
Cinematography: B+
Editing: B+

Here's something interesting for the locals: Captain Fantastic was filmed in the Pacific Northwest. In the forest! Although there is a key scene involving a toilet at Seatac Airport. So keep an eye out for that!

I suppose I shouldn't say it's "interesting." Viggo Mortensen's Ben, father of six children all being raised off the grid in the woods, teaches us that "interesting" is "a non-word that doesn't mean anything." Perhaps I should clarify? It'll interest residents of the Pacific Northwest with its familiar landscapes. Curiously, one exterior city shot is of Portland and another is of freeway bridges in Seattle. Maybe this movie should make up its mind.

Of course, these details won't mean much to the rest of the country. Plenty of viewers will likely be pulled into this movie by its opening scene, of a deer that gets hunted by a teenager we later learn is named Bo (George MacKay), using only a knife. In fact, by the time he finishes with this task, and we see Ben engage with him in a ritual involving Bo's apparent transition into manhood, some might think it's a little much.

Because this isn't just a family living off the grid. It's a father and six children, all of them being trained in survival skills that would, you know, come in handy in case of the fall of civilization. This is the part that makes the family rather unrealistic: they are portrayed as distrustful of government and particularly capitalist society, but they are otherwise rational, and educated with the help of a large library of literature. Books line shelves in their bus and inside a giant teepee. Ben gives the kids structure with daily exercise and training and education and even tests. But in the real world, this family would be a lot more bonkers than these people seem to be. Here, they don't actually talk about anything like the apocalypse or any and of impending doom. I mean, why can't they just be farmers? This family lives in the mountains and takes down wild game with knives. They don't have any guns. They are neither normal people nor realistic weirdos.

We're meant to see Ben's father-in-law, Jack (Frank Langella), as a bit of a villain, with his resentment toward Ben and his efforts to gain custody of the children. But they guy has some valid points.

It's not a spoiler to say Ben's wife dies; it's the basis of the whole story: Ben and the six kids go on the long journey in their bus to make it to his wife's funeral, in spite of Jack's insistence that they stay away. I didn't say Jack was perfect; in this case he's definitely being an asshole.

Somehow, though, the people playing these parts -- across the board -- sell it. Mortensen is as measured and nuanced here as anything he's been in, and convincingly conveys a man struggling with the life choices he made with a mentally ill spouse. Langella conveys characteristic subtlety as a man who can't abide by the influence his son-in-law exerted over his daughter. And the six kids are, in each case, a delight. It's particularly fun to watch them struggle to assimilate in regular society after ten years being raised in the wild, completely ignorant in the ways of regular social cues and over-educated in political history and civics. In one particularly resonant scene, Ben demonstrates how his sister's two teenage boys have no real answer when asked what the Bill of Rights is, and we all know that they represent the majority of American high schoolers.

Captain Fantastic might have an oversimplified presentation of this family's unique circumstances, but at least it acknowledges there are no simple solutions. Their struggles feel real enough to keep us invested, and their story is consistently entertaining.

Viggo Mortensen and the children march to the beat of CAPTAIN FANTASTIC.

Overall: B+

Opens Friday.
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