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“Captain Fantastic” is one of the year’s most pleasant surprises

Captain Fantastic
You often have to take praise that comes from the Sundance Film Festival with a grain of salt. That being said, when a title goes from Sundance to the Cannes Film Festival, that’s a sign that we have quality on our hands. This movie wound up blowing me away when I saw it last month, and this week it hits theaters. Not only did it surprise me with how tremendous it was, I was absolutely thrilled with how it even exceeded the reviews that had come previously. Filmmaker Matt Ross has something pretty special on his hands here, and I really hope that it gets properly appreciated by audiences.

The film is an often funny drama about a pseudo survivalist named Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his very unusual family. Hidden away in a remote part of the pacific northwest, Ben and his wife Leslie (Trin Miller) are raising six kids decidedly off the grid. Ben puts them all through various rigors, both physical and mental, preparing them for the world in his own way. Life interferes though, and eventually Ben and the kids are forced to enter civilization, with unexpected results. Ross writes and directs, with the rest of the cast including Frank Langella, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Ann Dowd, Missi Pyle, and more. Cinematography is by Stéphane Fontaine.

Just about everything here works in the flick, but the direction and Mortensen’s performance are chief among them. Ross not only has some strong visuals and a rock solid script, he makes you believe in this world he’s created. There’s more heft given to the other side of the survivalist argument than you’d expect, and neither is necessarily seen as the right answer. Regardless, having Mortensen rocking it here like he is really makes it all succeed. This is his career best performance in my book, worthy of awards consideration, at least to me. He’s just absolutely captivating. Ross knew what he was doing when he opted to cast Mortensen in the lead here. It’s a huge win for him, and the film itself.

Captain Fantastic could be a bit too small for awards, or at least the Academy Awards, but if it’s a critical hit, I suspect at least a tiny campaign will be waged on the movie’s behalf. Assuming it’s at all viable, look for something to be launched, with an eye on Best Picture, Best Director (for Ross), Best Actor (for Mortensen), Best Original Screenplay (also for Ross), Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing. It’s probably Original Screenplay or bust for this one, with an outside chance of Mortensen making a play in Actor, but this also could wind up being closer to an Independent Spirit Award juggernaut than an Oscar vehicle. Time will tell, obviously, but at the very least, it’s deserving of some consideration, wherever that may be.

Tomorrow, theaters on a limited basis will begin showing Captain Fantastic and I consider it a must see. The flick is special in a way that’s hard to explain. Part of it is Ross’ vision for the whole endeavor, while part of it is the work of the cast, led by Mortensen. It just all comes together and works, plain and simple. I strongly urge you to see this one, ladies and gentlemen. It has a lot to offer and is a surprisingly full cinematic meal. I doubt you’ll be at all disappointed with the film. It’s just a big counter programming winner for the summer movie season…

Be sure to check out Captain Fantastic, in theaters starting this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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