Captain Fantastic (3 stars)

Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen shines in this comedy drama about an off-grid family forced to confront the challenges of the modern world

Viggo Mortensen finds one of the best roles of his career in Captain Fantastic, a quirky, crowd-pleasing ode to the joys and pitfalls of unconventional parenting. His bearded, mountain man patriarch Ben Cash has raised a family of six off the grid in the Pacific Northwest of America, nurturing their survival skills with the intensity of Bear Grylls and fills their minds with physics, philosophy and bright ideas. This is a family that doesn't bother too much with Christmas festivities but does make a point of celebrating Noam Chomsky Day.

Home schooling may have its virtues but it leaves the family ill-prepared for the real world they are obliged to confront on a cross country trip to New Mexico in an old blue school bus. The clash of values provides amusing moments along the way. 'What's cola?,' asks one innocent child. 'Poison water,' replies Ben.

The road trip carries echoes of Little Miss Sunshine, and Captain Fantastic doesn't entirely escape the soft-hearted sentimentality of more commercially minded American indie fare. Would Ben really have left his children so unprepared or lacking in common sense? He is presented sympathetically but there is no space for defiance, no acknowledgement that he seems closer to a cult leader than a fantastic dad. Oldest son Bo (George Mackay) is obliged to hide the fact that he wants to apply for college. Disapproving, moneybags father-in-law (Frank Langella) is seen as the enemy rather than a voice of reason. Even when tensions grow and Ben is accused of having turned all the children into freaks, it never feelings like a blinding revelation.

Captain Fantastic is contrived and contradictory as it champions rugged idealism without really challenging the practicalities of non-conformity. On the other hand, it is undeniably entertaining with Mortensen a delight as an uninhibited free spirit.

Wide release from Fri Sept 9.

Captain Fantastic

  • 3 stars
  • 2016
  • US
  • 1h 58min
  • 15
  • Directed by: Matt Ross
  • Written by: Matt Ross
  • Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler

Ben (Mortensen) has raised a family of six off the grid in the Pacific Northwest, teaching them survival skills and science but leaving them unprepared for the rest of the world. The film doesn't face how Ben seems more like a cult leader than a great dad and it's contrived and contradictory, but Mortensen is a delight.