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

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction ( as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.