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Captain Fantastic

Universal // R // October 25, 2016
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Ryan Keefer | posted October 21, 2016 | E-mail the Author
The Movie:

When you consider things like the current Presidential campaign, and the choices between a doofus businessman and a corrupt geriatric, it would, could, is, very easy to pack up shop and move to the woods, with any of your family members that you can, teaching them things with Chomsky or whatever talisman of your choice, while giving them physical tools that many of a similar age would dream of.

Captain Fantastic is written and directed by Matt Ross, who many will recognize as Gavin Belson in HBO's hilarious Silicon Valley. The film centers on Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen, Eastern Promises) and his six kids, whom he is raising in the forests of Washington state. He has done this even after his wife returned to civilization for hospitalization, treating her bipolar disorder. She commits suicide and the family has conflict, first on whether to return to civilization to attend her funeral, then with her wife's surviving family, who disagree with Ben's philosophies.

Captain Fantastic premiered at Cannes and even won the "Un Certain Regard" for Ross' direction, but was first noticed on the festival circuit, specifically Sundance. When it finally did come to a wider audience, the promotional material was curious, in that it seemed to be marketed as both a comedy and drama. OK, so a little more trepidation here, but I'm still in for this curious movie. And now that I've seen it…eh? There's little denying the beauty and emotion in the first act, with the simplicity of the family unit and the shock each of the kids experiences when learning upon the news of their mother's death. It's when they leave the forest, going to New Mexico to their mother's funeral and meet their grandfather (Frank Langella, The Americans) and grandmother (Ann Dowd, Our Brand Is Crisis) is when things start to get problematic.

The movie bumps into a variety of different story hooks which, in retrospect for the story, any one of which could have worked better for the film than what is chosen. Captain Fantastic could have been a road movie with the family reconciling their thoughts about their mother, or their desire for a different life other than the one Ben gives them. Spending a larger block of time on Ben's disapproving in-laws would have also worked. Heck, even looking at the family dynamic between Ben and his oldest son Bo (George MacKay, The Americans) would have been a nice lynchpin to go with.

What Captain Fantastic does for better and worse is that it sticks to the roots in the ground that Ben has placed. Mortensen's performance contains strength, emotion and resiliency that not many other characters have expressed, nor are ones that Mortensen has entirely displayed in one film. These traits take his character and his family down some strange, and eventually roads over the last act of the film, turning a potentially excellent film into one that's simply good.

Perhaps maybe that's why I'm disappointed with Captain Fantastic. I wanted the best for it, despite Universal's interesting way of attempting to get people into the theater. And it does have some emotionally note-perfect moments in the first hour or so. Hopefully Viggo gets some individual recognition for the work, but the film, in sticking rigidly to its value set, becomes even more incredulous than its premise, several times over in fact.

The Blu-ray:
The Video:

Universal's transfer of Captain Fantastic looks pretty, that's for sure. The word of cinematographer Stephane Fontaine Rust and Bone gets a chance to shine in the first act, with the Washington exteriors looking sharp in their shade of green before moving to New Mexico, where the browns of the desert sand go well with the greens of the golf course. The red in Mortensen's suit looks great and the country scenes are luscious.

The Sound:

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 lossless track is fine but doesn't have any moments that blow your doors off. A first/second act moment of subterfuge by the family set to Bikini Kill's "Rebel Girl" was fun and made me chuckle, the third act when the kids try to get one of their own out of grandpa's house bring sounds like a body on a car and a gurney in an emergency room, have directional effects and panning which is effective, along with environmental sounds. It's a fine track.

The Extras:

Aside from a standard definition disc and a code for a digital copy of the film, the only extra onboard is "Insanely or Insanely Great" (4:01), in which Mortensen and Ross discuss the story and character, and Mortensen discusses his preparation for it. It is quite the skippable extra.

Final Thoughts:

I would have been thrilled to say that Captain Fantastic is one of the best films of the year and one that everyone should check out. It is still pretty good, and maybe in fresher eyes it is better than I'm giving it credit for it is. But 70% of the film feels like a lot of missed opportunity, despite a very good performance by its lead. Technically it is a strong disc, but could have used more on the extras side, but worth checking out.

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