Tropic Sprockets by Ian Brockway
Viggo Mortensen stars as a radical father of six kids in director Matt Ross's heartfelt coming of age story "Captain Fantastic."
The film starts off with a bang when a deer is stabbed in the woods by the older teen Bodevan (George MacKay). Ben rips out the deer's heart, takes a bite and paints the boy's nose with its blood. It is a riveting and tense moment, reminicent of "Lord of the Flies."
Then we see the family dwelling with rows of fruits, vegetables and brightly colored canned goods. The younger kids are clad in animal skins complete with a fox headpiece and they are just as comfortable shouting at the moon as dancing by the fire. At such moments the film recalls a naturalistic "Peter Pan" as much as anything else. These moments are striking with power and haunt.
Ben cares for his kids while the mother is in the hospital battling serious clinical depression. This premise of an uncompromising father with several kids is emotionally laden and generates apprehensive. Mortensen carries it very well. He is no irresponsible dad, freak or crackpot but a genuine person of charisma, skin and bones.
It is only the trappings of the plot that put the film slightly off center, veering it into the border of camp and melodrama. During a church scene why put Ben in a loud flaming red coat? Up until this point, Ben was subtle, a man of the earth. Why make his role look like a clown?
The story would be better served without this over the top flair. Clownish too is Bodevan proposing marriage on one knee after one nervous french kiss. Home-schooled or not, I doubt the father would leave his oldest so clueless in the ways of the flesh.
There is the conservative father in law (Frank Langella) who threatens custody of Ben's Lost Boys and two daughters. While no ogre or villain, we know little of this man or the relationship with his idealistic daughter.
Despite a bit of Hollywood formula, there are some fine touches. In one scene the kids are shown a video game. Bodevan's face is a mask of anguish right out of Edvard Munch. And one must give great credit to Mortensen who steers the film to force and clarity. The kids as well, acting in ensemble, are a delight.
Where the film shines most, however, is in its rich cinematography by Stéphane Fontaine (A Prophet) highlighting the feral, prickly and mountainous heavens of Nature, coupled with the bland artificial neons of Walmarts and convenience stores.
Although it falls too predictability in passages, "Captain Fantastic" has energy and spirit, primarily due to Viggo Mortensen in a newly flexible and refreshing role.
Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org