Sunday, May 13, 2018

2018 Cannes Marathon: Captain Fantastic

(Winner of the Un Certain Regard Prize for Best Director to Matt Ross at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival)

Written and directed by Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic is the story of a family whose patriarch is forced to return to society with his six children as they’ve been living in the forest as they deal with other family members and the modern world. It’s a film that explores a man trying to deal with returning to the world as well as loss and what people want for his children. Starring Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, George Mackay, Missi Pyle, Kathryn Hahn, and Steve Zahn. Captain Fantastic is a riveting and witty film from Matt Ross.

The film revolves around a man who lives in the forests in the Pacific Northwest in Washington with his six children as he receives the news that his wife had died and her father is barring him from the funeral that is held in New Mexico only for the man and his children deciding to go in defiance against their grandfather. It’s a film with a simple premise that play into a man who lives in an unconventional world in the forests where he and his children hunt for food and do all sorts of activities including mountain climbing and read various philosophical things about the world. Matt Ross’ screenplay follows the lifestyle that Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) has created with his wife Leslie (Trin Miller) who have six children that live with them as they all share views about their disdain for capitalism and the conformities of society. Yet, Leslie would briefly leave to go to the hospital for treatment for her illness until Ben’s sister Harper (Kathryn Hahn) gives him the news that Leslie died.

The first half of the film largely is set on the road where Ben is taking his kids on their bus as they drive from Washington to New Mexico to go to Leslie’s funeral despite the threat that her father Jack Bertrang (Frank Langella) about having Ben arrested if he shows up. On the road, Ben’s children deal with the world they’re encountering as they have very little clue about the outside world other than the ideas of capitalism and such as well as celebrate Noam Chomsky’s birthday months earlier as they see him as a great philosopher. Yet, there are also these elements of curiosity in the film as it relates to the eldest son Bodevan (George Mackay) who encounters the opposite sex as he is trying to figure out how to woo them while concealing the fact that he’s been accepted to various top universities in America. There’s also tension within the family as the middle son Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) believes that his mother really died because of his father. The film’s second half is set in New Mexico as it doesn’t just play into family tension but also why Jack has a grudge towards Ben as he is also concerned for the well-being of his grandchildren.

Ross’ direction does have element of style yet much of his approach to the compositions are straightforward to play into the world of a family who don’t live in conventional society. Shot largely in the state of Washington with additional shooting in Portland, Oregon, the film does play into this world where the forest is a place where Ben feels right at home with his children as they spend much of the day learning about philosophies and ideas as well as train to survive for any kind of situation. The first thing that is shown in the film is Bodevan in camouflage as he kills a deer as it is a moment establishes what Ben and his family does to get meat as well as the fact that they have their own garden and the only time Ben and Bodevan leave the forest is to certain things in a nearby town as their source of transportation is in a bus called Steve. Once the film goes on the road, Ross would use wide shots for the many locations they venture into while using close-ups and medium shots to play into the way they interact with other people and things including a stop at Harper’s home with her husband Dave (Steve Zahn) and their two sons.

Ross’ direction also include some humor where Ben asks his nephews about the Bill of Rights as his youngest daughter Zaja (Shree Crooks) brings her own interpretation of the document as it shocks her aunt. The funeral scene is comical but also unsettling for the fact that Ben and his kids are seen wearing strange clothes in comparison to what everyone else in the church is wearing as it play into two different worlds and ideals clashing together. Yet, there is something about the world that Jack offers to his grandchildren that is still compelling as he’s willing to give them a sense of security as well as a chance to discover the real world. Still, much of the film’s motivations is driven by loss as well as the air of uncertainty as it play into what Ben has to do for his children and the possibilities they can bring to the world. Overall, Ross crafts a mesmerizing and witty film about a family who enter the world of society to attend the funeral of their mother.

Cinematographer Stephane Fontaine does brilliant work with the film’s colorful cinematography with the natural look of the scenes of the forests as well as the usage of low-key lighting for some of the scenes at night including at the homes of Harper and Jack. Editor Joseph Krings does excellent work with the editing as it is largely straightforward with a few rhythmic cuts to play into the comedy and drama. Production designer Russell Barnes, with set decorators Tania Kupczak and Susan Magestro plus art director Erick Donaldson, does fantastic work with the look of the bus known as Steve as well as the forest home that Ben and his family live as well as the more lavish home that Jack has.

Costume designer Courtney Hoffman does amazing work with the costumes from the ragged hippie clothes the kids and Ben wear as well as the wild clothes they would wear to their mother’s funeral. Sound designer Frank Gaeta does superb work with the film’s sound as it play into the atmosphere of the locations as well as the way nature sounds in its natural environment. The film’s music by Alex Sommers is wonderful for its mixture of folk and ambient music textures with some original music played on location while music supervisor Chris Douridas provides a nice mix of genres ranging from classical pieces by Johann Sebastian Bach and Glen Gould as well as music from Alex & Jonsi, Sigur Ros, Bikini Kill, and covers of songs by Guns N’ Roses and Bob Dylan.

The casting by Jeanne McCarthy is incredible as it feature some notable small roles and appearances from Erin Moriarty as a teenage girl that Bodeven meets and falls for at a trailer park camp, Missi Pyle as the girl’s mother, Elijah Stevenson and Teddy Van Ee in their respective roles as Harper and Dave’s sons Justin and Jackson, Trin Miller as Ben’s wife Leslie, and Ann Dowd in a terrific small role as Leslie’s mother who would give Ben a letter she received from Leslie as she wants to get to know her grandchildren. Frank Langella is excellent as Leslie’s father Jack Bertrang as a man who has a grudge towards Ben for taking his daughter away from the world and blames him for her death as he wants to give his grandchildren a chance in live where Langella does show a sensitive and loving side when his character is around the grandchildren.

Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn are fantastic in their respective roles as Dave and Harper with the latter being Ben’s sister who are both concerned about their nieces and nephews and their interaction with the real world as well was what will happen to them when they’re adults. Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell are brilliant in their respective roles as the youngest children in Zaja and Nai with the former knowing a lot about body parts and government amendments while the latter is known for not wearing clothes when it’s time to eat dinner. Samantha Isler and Annalise Baso are amazing in their respective roles as the eldest sisters Kielyr and Vespyr as two teenage girls who are both dealing with growing pains with the former becoming interested in literature and the latter interested in adventure.

Nicholas Hamilton and George McKay are incredible in their respective roles as the middle child Rellian and the eldest child in Bodevan with the former becoming concerned and angry about some truths about what happened to his mother while the latter is trying to conceal secrets about being accepted to prestigious universities just as he’s becoming fascinated by girls. Finally, there’s Viggo Mortensen in a phenomenal performance as Ben Cash as a man of great intelligence who decides to shelter his children away from conventional society in the hope they can think for themselves as he also deals with the death of his wife as he’s also forced to realize his own faults in his methods as it all relates to loss and his unwillingness to deal with reality as it’s one of Mortensen’s finest performances.

Captain Fantastic is a tremendous film from Matt Ross that features an incredible performance from Viggo Mortensen. Along with its ensemble cast, engaging premise, and offbeat tone, it’s a film that explores a man trying to hold his family together to mourn the loss of their mother as they also encounter a world that is foreign to them. In the end, Captain Fantastic is a spectacular film from Matt Ross.

Related: 28 Hotel Rooms

© thevoid99 2018


Often Off Topic said...

Great review! I really loved this movie. I was expecting emotion but this really struck a chord with me.

thevoid99 said...

@Allie Adkins-Thank you. It was better than I thought it would be as Viggo definitely brought it as I also loved the entire ensemble cast.

Courtney said...

Great review! I LOVED this movie, and it's a shame it flew so far under the radar for that year. Viggo gave such a tremendous performance...I forget who he was nominated against for Oscars, but I remember it was a tough year.

thevoid99 said...

@Courtney-Thank you. He lost to Casey Affleck. I think Viggo gave the better performance in this film than Affleck did. I don't remember who else got nominated.