Review: ‘Captain Fantastic’ takes on traditional views

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

“Captain Fantastic” challenges societal and parenting norms en route to becoming one of the year’s most provocative films, right up until it’s nearly unraveled by its baffling conclusion.

Viggo Mortensen is riveting as Ben, a father who is raising his six children way off the grid in the woods in the Pacific Northwest.

He teaches them survival tactics, philosophy lessons and a strict anti-capitalist worldview. His children are taught to think for themselves, not regurgitate facts, and rather than Christmas, they celebrate Noam Chomsky Day, in honor of the philosopher and scholar.

Everything is great! Except Ben, for all the good he believes he’s doing, is raising kids to be potential psychopaths with no social skills whatsoever. Yes, they can recite and opine on the Bill of Rights, but when oldest son Bo (George MacKay) meets a girl, he has zero clue how to talk to her.

“Unless it came out of a book, I don’t know anything about anything,” Bo explodes at his father.

The children’s grandfather, Jack (Frank Langella, excellent as usual) steps in to make some adjustments, and “Captain Fantastic” forces viewers to ask difficult questions about their own perspectives. Are we all consumerist zombies? Yes. Is it better to go off in the woods and live off the land? Maybe? Probably not?

Writer-director Matt Ross delivers a warm, humorous, enlightening family drama marked by strong performances (the children are all magnificent, as are Steve Zahn and Kathryn Hahn as Ben’s extended family), though, by the end, you wonder if he learned any of the lessons he was laying out. Still, five-sixths of it is pretty fantastic.

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‘Captain Fantastic’


Rated R for language and brief graphic nudity

Running time: 118 minutes