Captain Fantastic

Director: Matt Ross (2016) BBFC cert: 15

Book yourself a seat on an anarchic bus ride as Viggo Mortensen puts himself in the driving seat for an Oscar.

The magnificent performance from The Lord Of The Rings (2001-03) star is the irresistible emotional engine powering the quirky narrative.

He plays Ben Cash, an uncompromising father of six whose values and unique parenting style are tested on a road trip of self discovery.

Having rejected consumer society, Ben lives with his home schooled children in a secluded mountain yurt, living off the land in a survivalist fashion.

The kids are well educated and versed in the arts, philosophy and science, as well as being in tip top physical shape due to diet and rigorous exercise regime.

Following the death of his beloved wife in hospital, Ben has five days to travel across the USA for the funeral. But Ben is threatened with arrest by his estranged wealthy father-in-law if he attends the service.

A ferocious Frank Langella deserves a second Oscar nomination to go with the one he earned for political drama Frost/Nixon (2008).

Travelling in a battered old school bus, the kids’ see the US is an alien world full of fat, consumer driven, screen addicted idiots. Perceived as strange for their non-comformist views, their attempts to engage with the outside world flags up the flaws in Ben’s approach.

The tremendous young cast burn through their scenes with energy and charm, working from the director’s smart script, rich with character, humour and sadness.

Brit actor George MacKay is endearingly gawky as Ben’s rebellious eldest son, Bodevan. While scene stealing poppet Shree Crooks is the smallest child who gifts us the biggest laughs.

Despite the low budget the film looks fabulous, capturing the majestic expanse of the US with an admiring eye.

As the family cross the US the recalls Little Miss Sunshine (2006), but where that beauty pageant road trip dissected US culture from within, this one does so from the outside looking in.

This is less sentimental and more moving. Back then the Sundance festival hit Little Miss Sunshine ram-raided it’s way to two Oscar wins from four nods and it’s easy to imagine Captain Fantastic doing something similar.

Mortensen is a physical actor with a great ability to suggest internal angst. As far back as Tony Scott’s submarine thriller Crimson Tide (1995), he excelled at portraying self doubt.

What could be a depressing grind through grief and regret goes off-roading to become a  joyous celebration of family life. It’s a first class journey all the way.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

 

 

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