It's hard describe the beauty and genius of this very original, very moving film about mortality, family, and parenting. Captain Fantastic is such a different animal that it would be all too easy to dismiss it as overcomplicated and overwrought. Yet it's neither. It isn't afraid to push boundaries, to make viewers a little uncomfortable so they can immerse themselves in the world that Ben and his family create. And when the family ventures away from their idyll in the mountains, viewers can feel both the trepidation and excitement that engulf them. In short, we're fully invested in their outcomes.
Mortensen is tailor-made to play Ben, whom he paints as both stubborn and single-minded but also kind, loving and, yes, afraid. That Mortensen is able to communicate all this and more -- even as Ben puts his children through the paces -- with grace and compassion is masterful. He's met with equal confidence by MacKay, Hamilton, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Shree Crooks, and Charlie Shotwell, who play Ben's kids. So, too, by Frank Langella and Ann Dowd, who play his grieving in-laws. If there's a quibble, it's that the movie sometimes feels stuffed to the gills and sometimes oversimplifies the core parenting arguments at the center of its plot. But in the end, kudos to director Matt Ross, who guides his cast with a steady, controlled hand that allows the story to run free.