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.

Ann Dowd Frank Langella Captain Fantastice

(Photo by Cathy Kanavy / Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

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.

Kathryn Hahn Steve Zahn

(Photo by Erik Simkins / Courtesy of Bleecker Street)

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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024