Ben Cash (Viggo Mortensen) is an idealistic live-off-the-land type who raises his six children in the wilderness with all the skills they’ll need to survive after the apocalypse. Think Bear Grylls meets Mary Poppins.
But he skirts dangerously close to child abuse when he cracks out the bagpipes, and his parents in law get involved to bring the kids back to civilization. Think The Road if they’d chosen to live like that.
Mortensen is perfectly cast as the super-smart, uber principled dad who’s just as handy with a bow and arrow as with a book. He’s entirely believable in the role, bringing the appropriate level of sincerity. The kids are also excellent, giving this fantastic seven warmth and heart in abundance.
The free-spirited family represents an ideal of life outside from the constraints of the capitalist rat race that many people aspire to, even if most don’t make it far beyond the occasional camping trip. And their fiercely independent desire to live the best life they can regardless of what anyone else says is clearly admirable.
But while there may well be problems with raising your kids in this way, the ones the family encounters feel largely avoidable. The film’s worst moments are when Ben crosses from idealistic to fanatical and makes issues where they don’t need to be by failing to budge an inch to social convention even when they venture back into capitalist society and stay at other people’s houses. Also in spite of its political conscience it lacks any substantive roles for its female characters.
Yet it’s engaging throughout, heartwarming and funny. Captain Fantastic is terrific.