Combustible Celluloid
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With: Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Trin Miller, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Elijah Stevenson, Teddy Van Ee, Erin Moriarty, Missi Pyle, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd
Written by: Matt Ross
Directed by: Matt Ross
MPAA Rating: R for language and brief graphic nudity
Running Time: 118
Date: 07/15/2016

Captain Fantastic (2016)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Nature of Things

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Written and directed by Matt Ross, Captain Fantastic starts a little rough, with a young man hunting a deer in the woods. It seems as if this is going to be another intense, obsessed, heavy-handed parable about mankind's foibles, but Captain Fantastic quickly rights itself, establishing a warmly humorous, and compassionate tone.

It seems that Ben (Viggo Mortensen) and his six kids are living off the land, eating food they have either raised or killed, reading, making their own music, and keeping in shape. When the kids' mother dies in a hospital back in civilization, they must travel to her funeral to make sure her dying wish, to be cremated, is upheld.

This could have been a simple, comical, fish-out-of-water story, but Ross goes deeper, brilliantly and subtly balances all the pros and cons of these two worlds. In a restaurant, the children remark that everyone is so fat, but they are quickly admonished about being kind to strangers; then the family leaves because "they don't serve any actual food here." Certainly Ben's little wilderness society has its benefits, but also its drawbacks; Ben himself is sympathetic, but not without his flaws. At the same time, the city-dwellers could have been dopey caricatures, but they -- especially Frank Langella as Ben's father-in-law -- are also treated with respect, shown to be wrong when they're wrong, but also with the ability to be right.

In short, these are all deeply, profoundly human ideas, told in a compelling story, with interesting characters. George MacKay is outstanding as the eldest son, Bodevan, who knows a lot, but doesn't have the first clue how to be with girls; when he receives his first kiss, his reaction is both funny and moving. The rest of the young actors are likewise fine, as are Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn. In addition to his sharp screenplay, Ross proves adept with the camera, using the family's ragtag bus and other locations effectively.

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