Movie Review: ‘CAPTAIN FANTASTIC’, a fascinating portrait of typical family living atypical life


Preston Barta // Features Editor

Director: Matt Ross
Cast: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha IslerAnnalise BassoNicholas HamiltonShree CrooksCharlie ShotwellKathryn HahnSteve ZahnAnn Dowd and Frank Langella

Parenting is a massive obligation that is troubled with apprehension. It’s tough to navigate, and a constant game of trial and error.

Matt Ross’ life-affirming CAPTAIN FANTASTIC addresses this struggle and offers some guidance.

Actor turned filmmaker Ross (SILICON VALLEY) crafts a story about a devoted father named Ben (a captivating Viggo Mortensen) who gave up his professional career to move his family to the wilds of the Pacific Northwest, where they can live in harmony with the natural world.

Ben spends every waking moment schooling and training his six children, ages 7 to 18, through his knowledge of the world, the books they have handy, and the freedom to explore who they are.

But then tragedy strikes, and the family must venture outside its self-created paradise to face the challenges of modern civilization, which doesn’t exactly understand their outlandish ways.

On the surface, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC reads as a crunchy granola kind of movie that preaches too heavily about how technology and modern education are futile. However, Ross has much more on his mind than hitting you over the head with concepts. He’s a smart filmmaker who merely wants to present common parenting concerns in an entertaining narrative, which he accomplishes without a fault.

At a time of the year when Hollywood fires off all its big guns, it’s rare to find a smaller gem that both pleases and educates. This film is rooted in truth, offering honest observations about family dynamics and a nuanced commentary on controversial issues. Whether it’s exposing your children to sex, violence or religion,CAPTAIN FANTASTIC manages to find a safe course to subtly sail through its topics, which will have you laughing in one moment and tearing up in the next.

Supported by fine performances (both big and small) and the year’s sharpest script, CAPTAIN FANTASTIC awakens an inner dialogue in audiences about the way we live our lives based on societal influences. Ross’ film doesn’t advise us to drop everything and move to the wilderness. It simply suggests we step back and reflect on the material goods and life values that are important.

CAPTAIN FANTASTIC opens tomorrow, July 15.
Dallas: Angelika Dallas

About author

Preston Barta

Hello, there! My name is Preston Barta, and I am the features editor of Fresh Fiction and senior film critic at the Denton Record-Chronicle. My cinematic love story began where I was born: off planet on the isolated desert world of the Jakku system. It's there I passed the time scavenging for loose parts with my good friend Rey. One day I found an old film projector and a dusty reel of the 1975 film JAWS. It rocked my world so much that I left my kinfolk in the rearview (I so miss their morning cups of green milk) to pursue my dreams of writing about film. It wasn't long until I met two gents who said they would give me a lift. I can't recall their names, but one was an older man who liked to point a lot and the other was a tall, hairy fella. They got me as far as one of Jupiter's moons where we crossed paths with the U.S.S. Enterprise. Some pointy-eared bastard said I was clear to come aboard. He saw that I was clutching my beloved shark movie and invited me to the "moving pictures room" where he was screening the 1993 film JURASSIC PARK to his crew. He said my life would be much more prosperous if I were familiar with more work by the god named Steven Spielberg. From there, my love for cinema blossomed. Once we reached planet Earth, everything changed. I found the small town of Denton, TX, and was welcomed into the Barta family. They showed me the writings of local film critic Boo Allen. He became my hero and caused me to chase a degree in film and journalism. After my studies at graduate of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, I met some film critics who showed me the ropes and got me into my first press screening: 2011's THE GREEN LANTERN. Don't worry; I recovered just fine. MAD MAX: FURY ROAD was only four years away.