Viggo Mortensen’s versatility as an actor is something that’s garnered him collected praise throughout his career. It doesn’t prove boastful, his offerings are few and far in between but the work he provides is of particular taste. It proves all the more wonderful when we do see him in a role as definitively fantastic as Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic.
Ben, a father of six, devotes his life to the proper upbringing of his children in the forests of the Pacific Northwest. Leaving a rigorous and physically demanding daily routine for himself and the children behind, the family must travel to the regular world to deal with the passing of his wife. In doing so, he must deal with the possibility that his parenting may not be the best thing for the children.
Off the grid and living as part of what some may describe as a cult, Ben and his family live a life full of exercise and perpetual learning; a life catered to the particular in a regime that Ben describes and expresses wholeheartedly to be the only way his children should be brought up.
Writer and director Ross creates an enormous dynamic that revolves around this whacky family, an admirable one that may split audiences but one that’s also as controversial as the questions raised by Ben’s nearest family, played by Ann Dowd, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn. All living the life spoken with resentment and disappointment by Ben as general parenting filled with mobile phones, games consoles and a lack of genuine self-discipline in comparison to Ben’s teachings of Dostoevsky and knife-to-knife combat in the field tactics. And though the comparisons are alarming to say the least, does it make Ben any less of a father figure?
Eldest son Bo (George Mackay) may be an expert deer hunter, a campfire specialist and general leader, but when it comes to teenage flirting and talking to the desired sex, he’s uneducated and lacks any sort of guidance. And when Vespyr (Annalise Basso) follows her father’s guidance, she ends up in the hospital while one of the youngest is handed a combat weapon on the day of a political philosopher’s birthday instead of celebrating Christmas. It’s an otherworldly sense of living, but it doesn’t invalidate Ben’s teachings by any means, it just differs from the norm exponentially.
Mortensen plays Ben with so much assurance that it borders on arrogance, who without doubt appears to be bringing up a militia instead of harbouring a genial sense of parenthood. But amidst the perpetual intellectual offerings, there’s an abundance of warmth and care within Ben, a touching sentiment given to each one of his varied offspring that culminates in self-doubt and personal reflection. And through it all he battles on, fighting his wife’s final wishes, a father left a widow and angrily defending them.
Ross doesn’t skip through the sentimentality of it all. He makes use of all his talents, ranging from Mortensen’s capabilities as a profound leading man to the supporting family to the smallest of talents. Each character feels as refined as the next and convincingly portray a dynamic and a conclusive intimate bond with each other and their setting – which is as raw and beautiful as you may expect from a family of essential wildebeests living amongst the wild.
The film is played with enough subtlety and grace to wrestle with grief in a refreshing, almost radical manner. It fits with the characters wholly as Ross’ inventive and peculiar characters make for enormously entertaining and engaging viewing, but this is truly Mortensen’s film, one of his best roles and one of 2016’s best, most original films.
Dir: Matt Ross
Scr: Matt Ross
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Annalise Basso, Ann Dowd, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn
Prd: Monica Levinson, Lynette Howell Taylor, Shivani Rowat
Music: Alex Somers
DOP: Stéphane Fontaine
Runtime: 118 minutes
Captain Fantastic is available on DVD now.