This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, September 2016
This unexpectedly marvellous indie flick was written and directed by Matt Ross who plays the narcissistic Gavin Belson in TV’s marvellous Silicon Valley. Means nothing to you? OK, this is only his fourth directorial outing after two shorts and an under-the-radar feature. And he won a directing prize at Cannes this year. Still so what?
Well, the So What revolves largely around Ross’s superb script which feels fresh and original for the first three quarters at least. It is bolstered by the canny casting of the exceptional Viggo Mortensen as a disarmingly straight-talking father to six characterful children whose adventurous upbringing in the bush is disrupted by a family tragedy that sees them having to encounter “the real world” for the first time ever.
That world is, of course, the consumerist, capitalist, comparatively ignorant one that we all live in (it’s safe to say if you live the way of this family, you won’t be reading this online or in the paper). And Ross sells us this alternative reality as black and white, setting up an enchanting landscape where health and well-being comes from playing music around the campfire and reading improving books, along with knowing how to protect yourself in hand-to-hand combat.
Mortensen (fine in the LOTR films but always at his best when flexing a morally ambiguous muscle, as in A History of Violence and festival fare Far from Men) is enormously entertaining and compellingly authentic as a politically idealistic dad teaching his offspring survival skills and self-sustenance in a gloriously tech-free enclave. “Interesting is a non-word – be specific,” he instructs these eccentric, emotionally secure and extraordinarily well-read youngsters, and when they are thrown into counterpoint against dull-headed cousins, you can’t help but think he’s got it right.
As the ethics get more complex, however, the plot becomes a little predictable even though the ideas turn a thought-provoking grey. Like its protagonists, Captain Fantastic is flawed but nonetheless bewitching.