Despite its fanciful title, Captain Fantastic is an all-too-believable story about a man who raises his six children in a commune-like environment in the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest, away from civilization and all the evils he believes it represents. I can’t picture a better actor to embody this character than Viggo Mortensen, who practices a tough-love approach to fatherhood. Writer-director Matt Ross depicts him as an uncompromising extremist who celebrates Noam Chomsky Day with his kids and discourages conventional thinking…but we never doubt his love and devotion for a moment.
The kids, who range in age from 7 to 17, follow their father’s teaching and daily agenda of exercise, survivalist training, and education, but when their mother dies they’re deeply upset and can’t go on with business as usual. Mortensen has so infuriated his father-in-law (Frank Langella) that he’s not welcome at his wife’s funeral. As usual he develops his own agenda and drags his kids along.
Filmmaker Ross, who is better known as an actor (currently seen on Silicon Valley, formerly on Big Love and featured in a number of high-profile movies) guides this offbeat story with assurance and makes even far-fetched incidents reasonably credible in the context of this unusual family portrait.
The children are well-cast and the superior supporting cast includes Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd, and the always-formidable Langella. Without spoiling the resolution, I found it both believable and satisfying—for me and the leading character, who’s had to face a moral and ethical crisis.
Viggo Mortensen is a rugged individualist in real life and chooses his parts carefully; his commitment to this one makes perfect sense. An idealist who takes things too far, he’s a man who can no longer see the forest for the trees. Ross manages to make all of his characters three-dimensional and empathetic. That’s why Captain Fantastic maintains its hold on us as it puts us through an emotional catharsis. It is heartfelt and well worth your time.