Sunday, January 15, 2017

Movie Review: "Captain Fantastic"

At least some of you know that once the Golden Globe and SAG Award nominations are announced, we spend a lot of time at the movies, seeing all of the movies and performances nominated for the major awards, so we're reasonably prepared come Oscar nomination time. (Then, of course, comes the crush to see anything we haven't seen before the Oscars—we usually come really close, if not hit 100 percent.)

I'm actually grateful for this obsession, because sometimes the Golden Globes and SAGs nominate performances or movies that got very little, if any, time in theaters around here, so learning about them introduces me to some great films and performances I might not have otherwise seen. Captain Fantastic is definitely one of those.

Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) and his wife Leslie have raised their six children in a remote cabin in the mountains of Washington state, almost completely off the grid. They've educated their children in history, science, politics, culture, survivalism, even socialism. (A favorite holiday is Noam Chomsky Day.) These children know how to hunt, forage for, and grow their own food; they know how to rappel, climb rocks, defend themselves, and treat injuries; and they are stronger, faster, and more agile than most adults, let alone children their own age. Ben and Leslie have also taught their children to be critical thinkers, although they mostly believe the same things their parents (or more so, their father) do.

Over the last several years, Leslie has been suffering from mental illness, and is starting to tire of life off the grid. She wants her children to live more typical lives and interact with their peers. Yet this is a source of significant friction between her and Ben, and she has been hospitalized while he remains with the kids.

While some of the children are devoted to their father and the life they know, some are beginning to think like their mother. The oldest child, Bo (George MacKay), wants to go to college, and realizes that he has no understanding of how people interact in the "real world." When a tragedy forces Ben and the children back into society, their interactions with Ben's sister and her family, as well as Leslie's parents (Frank Langella and Ann Dowd), devout Christians who blame Ben for what has befallen their daughter, show just how wide the divide is between Ben's way of thinking and others', and it sets up a situation in which the children must choose what path they want to follow.

Mortensen is a tremendously versatile actor, equally comfortable in both fantastical and realistic roles. His performance is Captain Fantastic is both intense and sensitive—he's a man who so fully believes that the way he has raised his children is right, and can't believe anyone (including his children) would disagree with that, but he's absolutely horrified when he realizes that he may have done his children a disservice. He is proud of the ways his children excel over others, yet turns a blind eye to where they may be lacking. And he is a man devoted to his wife, but he cannot understand why she would suddenly change her mind about the life they have chosen for them and their children. (Oh, and he goes full Viggo again in this movie, if you know what I mean.)

The actors playing the children are all quite good, particularly MacKay and Nicholas Hamilton, who plays the son whose questions and wants start to cause cracks in the foundation Ben has built. Langella has a fairly one-dimensional role as the film's heavy, and Kathryn Hahn and Steve Zahn, playing Ben's sister and brother-in-law, don't have a lot to do other than be shocked at how outlandish Ben's behavior and obsession has become.

This is a sweet, predictable movie, but its quality is ratcheted up a few notches because of some of the performances, particularly Mortensen's. He has been nominated for Golden Globe and SAG Awards, and I hope to see his name among the Best Actor Oscar nominees later this month. It's definitely a movie worth seeing—it's thought-provoking, a little emotional, and quite enjoyable.

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