Review: ‘Captain Fantastic’ Mortensen Dazzles In Career Defining Role

Captain Fantastic, written and directed by Matt Ross, asks audiences how extreme is your love for family? Are you willing to do whatever it takes, regardless of the sacrifice, to ensure a better life for loved ones?

Ben Cash ( Viggo Mortensen) is willing to uproot his life and move into the middle of the Oregon wilderness with his wife to provide a stable home life for their six children and provide peace for his wife’s troubled mind. Ross develops a film that will give you (as a good friend of mind would state) “all the feels.” Captain Fantastic is a film that contains a rainbow of emotions that will illuminate audiences and uplift their souls. It provides the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for the Cash clan. Ross shows us all families are far from perfect, and he accomplishes this by perfectly capturing the essence of what “family” truly means.

Captain Fantastic

The Cash family leads a very simple existence. They live in the middle of the woods, farming, hunting, and doing daily chores to continue their survival. Ben leads his children through a routine of regular exercise and daily studies, which they do during their down time. As the film continues, we come to find out that his wife Leslie (Trim Miller) has been in a mental hospital for a few months dealing with a profound depression. Shortly after this revelation, Ben gets word that his wife has, in fact, committed suicide. This sobering moment leads to most of the family leaving the compound and heading towards New Mexico so that they can attend the funeral.

Ross crafts an engaging narrative. While the Cash children perform their daily rituals with military-like precision, the movie has less concern with what they do and more about what they are each going through. Each child is in the midst of an impressionable period in their lives, and all are struggling with the idea that Mom’s never going to be around again. As individuals we tend to learn how to cope with issues from seeing how others deal with similar problems; but here, these children haven’t been around other people. The social norms are foreign to them and emotionally stunt them. Is it possible that love this extreme can be a detriment?

Cinematographer Stéphane Fontaine showcases the beauty of the Oregon wilderness. My favorite moment had to have been the opening scene that involving the oldest son Bo (George McKay) hunting a deer, his rite of passage. Fontaine keeps the camera in close, tight shots on Bo and the deer, engaging the audience almost immediately. She perfectly captures the intensitiy of the hunt while capturing the look of detertmination on Bo’s face. When he does eventually kill the deer, the focus drifts from the actual kill to the aftermath, as we see the whole Cash clam emerge from the woods, camflouged from head to toe.  

All that is great, but the biggest takeaway from Captain Fantastic is the performance of the Captain himself, Viggo Mortensen. A very soulful performance as the patriach of the Cash family, Mortensen exhibits authenticity, and is both magnificent and heartbreaking. Ben has spent the last 17 years trying to steer these children in a way that he thought was appropriate, but now he’s coming to grips with his intense style of parenting, and that it may have ultimately done more harm than good. This is a masterful performance that will certainly be considered one of the 10 best at year’s end.

Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
Dewey Singleton - Film Critic
I'm a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association and have been doing reviews for many years. My views on film are often heard in markets such as Atlanta, Houston, and satellite radio. My wife often tolerates my obsession for all things film related and two sons are at an age now where 'Trolls' is way cooler than dad. Follow me on twitter @mrsingleton.