Captain Fantastic (Matt Ross, 2016, USA)

Captain Fantastic is the second feature written and directed by Matt Ross. Ross has primarily worked as an actor in such films as American Psycho and The Aviator. The film stars Viggo Mortensen as Ben Cash, a man who lives in the forests of the Pacific Northwest with his six children. He trains them in survivalist techniques and educates them in the ways of left-wing radicalism. At the start of the film, we learn that his wife Leslie has been hospitalized with bipolar disorder and recently committed suicide. Her funeral provides the initial narrative impetus for the film, and we understand that a clash of civilizations will begin.

The first third of the film is the strongest section, although, at the sheer level of believability, our meter is already stretched (little children climbing giant rock faces is a bit much). Ben is initially portrayed as a sympathetic figure, but as the film progresses, we begin to take on the view of Ben's sister and her family. Ben is kind of a jerk, indoctrinating his children and putting them in dangerous situations. This is further enhanced when he arrives at Leslie's funeral late with total disrespect, dressed in flashy colors.

The final act is the weakest here - and not just because of the cringe-worthy singalong von Trapp finale. The script essentially sets Ben up to be punished for his actions and adapt to the real world, but he ends up doing the same thing he always has done (and manages to get away with a kidnapping without the police becoming involved?). Captain Fantastic is a film with some interesting ideas about life within and outside of civilization, but unfortunately, it is rendered somewhat ineffective due to writing issues. Viggo Mortensen however is still convincing in his role as the head of the family.



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