Every once in a while I visit the cinema with a perception of how I expect a film will be and come out having been completely proved wrong.
Sometimes this will happen when I see a film I think will be good, then I leave the cinema extremely disappointed.
Then… Very occasionally I see a movie that from the trailers looks mediocre, average, nothing new and I become so gripped with what I am watching that I don’t want to leave the cinema. I don’t want the film to end. This is precisely what happened when I saw Captain Fantastic.
For some context on what I refer to when I mention a trailer doing a mediocre job of selling a film, you can view the trailer to Captain Fantastic here.
The ‘i” in independent
So the first thing that struck me about Captain Fantastic was how obviously independent it was in it’s overall style and tone. Everything from the way the film was shot, to the plot, to the soundtrack and locations signified this was not a film made with an infinite budget in one of Hollywood’s major studios. Am I selling this to you? If the answer is no and you a half glass empty type, then try to look at each of those highlighted details positively.
A recently bereaved father of six attempts to hold firm on the life he has forged for his offspring now without the help of his late wife. A life of simple pleasures, minimalistic possessions, at home with nature and its dangers and rewards. Ben stares adversity in the face when he attempts to re-engage with the rest of his family. They think he’s weird, he fights the status quo and is harming his children’s growth into adult life. The reality is quite the opposite. Captain Fantastic has the basis of every great independent film. It has heart, it doesn’t attempt to charm you with glitz and glam, it does it with real story-telling.
It felt so fresh to see a point-of-view camera style in such a raw form. By this I mean I felt like I was one of Viggo Mortensen’s kids going along on an adventure. I felt involved in the wild, I had seat on the magic bus, I was also climbing up a rockface learning the skills of survival along with everyone else. It’s not often I feel so included in a motion picture but with Captain Fantastic I did and that is in no small part, down to the cinematography
A stripped back almost acapella version of Sweet Child O’ Mine, a song from Sigur Ros, a piano/flute instrumental version of My Heart Will Go On and a Cello Suite make for an interesting indie soundtrack (interesting isn’t a word – I should justify myself) – Make no mistake what you’re listening to is a cleverly crafted, well thought out backing to an intelligent film
The breathtaking backdrop of Mount Shuksan provides the setting for much of the early part of the film. What struck me about Captain Fantastic was the majority of the film was shot in Washington State. With its almost Canadian looking scenic mountainous range, this film plays out like a sister film to The Revenant. I half expected Leonardo DiCaprio to come marauding across the screen on horseback.
Viggo Mortensen’s appearance as Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings (2003) trilogy is a distant cry from his performance in Captain Fantastic. You might ask why I am comparing the roles? The simple reason is when people see Viggo they immediately think Aragorn. I did, my girlfriend did (once I prompted her) and I even heard people in the cinema murmer “Aragorn”. Whilst his performance in LOTR was strong, it did does not show the vast acting quality that Mortensen has. This film does this and much more.
The children are perfectly cast in their roles and feed off Mortensen’s ability to endear you. Yes Ben has flaws, but he does everything for the right reason and this sincerity is evident throughout Mortensen’s performance.
I really enjoyed this film. It was two hours of humour laced with some genuinely moving moments, wrapped with a huge dose of heart-warming dialogue. You understand the journey Ben and his children go on and the different stages of their lives they are at. The loss of a mother and a wife leaves an unfillable gap in everyone’s life. This film provides a coping strategy and reminds us why it’s important to understand one another in the toughest moments.
N.B. George MacKay has a bright future ahead of him after his performance here.