If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world
Year Released : 2016
Director : Matt Ross
Cast : Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Sam Isler, Annalist Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn and Frank Langella
Yes, it’s relatively mainstream, and yes, it’s a film that goes against what I usually write about (obscure films for those that haven’t read this site before), but I just had to write a review on this exceptional film. I don’t usually write about films released at the cinema on this site, but the moment that I realised that I had to was when I was on the walk back and I had to take a deep breath and just let go following a film that could end up not only at the top of my top ten for 2016, but also enter my top ten films from my entire life (and I turn 32 on Monday to put that into further context for people).
At first I thought it was going to be one of those really pretentious films, but as the film went on I was sat in my seat at Hyde Park Picture House with a smile on my face and a sense that I was watching a movie that I would rate a perfect ten out of ten.
You did not read that incorrectly. This film gets a perfect score from me, even though I don’t really do scores on this site. It’s joins “The Fly” (1986 version), “The Thing” (1982 version), “Fight Club” and ” Nightcrawler” on that list. It is a remarkable achievement of story telling, character building, emotional involvement and just an overwhelming flood of emotions.
Ben (Mortensen) is raising his six children in the wilderness after he and his wife decided to do away with it in the search of a purer life. He has trained them to survive in nature, including killing animals, climbing mountains and various other things. Ben’s wife has been in hospital for some time when he phones her sister to find out what the latest update is, he learns that she has committed suicide. Ben is then told in no uncertain terms by Jack (Langella), his wife’s father, that he is not welcome at the funeral as he blames Ben for his daughter’s death.
When he gets home Ben breaks the news to his family and they convince him to go to the funeral anyway, especially as she is being buried as a Christian when she infact followed the Buddhist way of life, and expressed specifically in her will that she wished to be cremated. Ben’s oldest son, Bodevan (MacKay) , decides to hide the fact that he has received offers from all of the Ivy League colleges around America.
The family bonds further throughout the trip, with the exception of Rellian (Hamilton), who seems distracted and distant from the rest, but they are determined to say goodbye to their mother, even if it means upsetting the rest of the family, with Ben’s no-nonsense approach to parenting (i/e rather than lying about his wife just dying, he openly reveals to small children that she slit her wrists) proving particularly unsettling to near enough everyone.
So why a perfect ten?
I was sat in that screen for the film’s 100 or so minute run time and in that time I felt every conceivable emotion. The film is wonderfully joyous at times, hilarious at others, depressingly sad in parts and reflective in the inbetween. There were moments when I felt serenity in joy, and then downright anger. When I go to watch a film, I want to be emotionally invested, and I can’t think of another film off of the top of my head where I felt as many emotions as I did during the run time on an emotions:minutes ratio.
The comedy is genuine and doesn’t feel forced in the slightest. For example, when a police officer boards their bus and starts questioning why the kids aren’t in school, they all start feigning being religious and sing songs about Jesus loving him, and his reaction at being surrounded by six people all singing about God and Jesus is hilarious. You’ve got children being given books about sex and the horrified looks of family members when the children do something that you wouldn’t expect from someone at that age.
But for me, whilst being emotionally invested is important, the single most important thing that a film must do is have an interesting and engaging storyline, and “Captain Fantastic” does that triumphantly and to sum up how much that means coming from me, search through my other 200odd reviews and you will see that I have never used that word to describe a film, even on ones that I raved about.
“Captain Fantastic” is a film that makes you think and no scene sums this up more than when Ben asks one of his children to summarise the book that she is reading, which happens to be “Lolita” and she describes how you hate the central character in that for being a paedophile, but you also feel so connected to him. Just for the record, I have never read Lolita, nor seen any film based on it, so I have no idea if that’s the case, but in that scene it sums up this film in general, and life in many ways.
The film is told mainly from one perspective (more on that in a minute), but it’s only when you start to look at it from another perspective that you start to consider things that you never previous had, and that’s something that is very rare in films these days.
My example of this is Jack. You’re pissed that he is ignoring his daughter’s wishes (cremation over burial), but you see where he is coming from as a major theme in the final act of the film is the questioning of whether Ben has raised the kids in their best interests. You don’t like the guy for ignoring how someone wanted to be treated after they had died, but as the final act goes on you start to see his point a bit, realising that he infact has the best interests of everyone at heart. Even though he’s antagonistic character, you see where he is coming from and that is the sign of a great villain, even though he’s not really villainous character when you look at it from a perspective other than Ben’s.
Viggo Mortensen plays arguably his best role of his career (in my opinion of course). I will not lie and say that I’ve seen each of his films, infact I’ve only seen four, but for me this was his best role yet and that’s because he caught the emotions of the character of Ben so well, and he nailed it. The character is a very serious one and yet some of the lines he is given make you wonder how Mortensen pulled off a straight face in the situation. For example, he tells his young daughter, who can’t be older than ten about rape and sex without flinching a muscle, whereas everyone in the audience was laughing.
The children are all very well acted, and it must be the first time in a long time where I have seen some child actors and not found their performances tedious. I mean you’ve got Jacob Tremblay in “Room” giving an exceptional performance, but the only thing that has come of that is that he is now typecast due to that performance being so convincing. These kids don’t feel like they’re going to be restricted to similar roles in the future.
The very fact that I’m introducing a new stamp to the site should tell you everything that you need to know. This is a stamp you will not see often in the future, if at all. It’s something that I have only given to four other films in my life, and is something that even my favourite film doesn’t have.
If “Captain Fanastic” doesn’t sit at the top of my “Top Ten of 2016” list when I write it in late December then there is going to be something astonishingly good coming out within the next three and a half months, and I genuinely don’t see that happening.
It’s brilliantly acted, superbly written, is visually excellent and is so emotionally investing that I can’t even begin to do it justice with this review.