Captain Fantastic movie full length review - Interesting themes and great acting make for an interesting if not great film.
Captain Fantastic: Not Fantastic, but Pretty Good
Captain Fantastic, starring Vigo Mortensen, taught me a few things. However, it wasn't the revelatory, ground breaking film it could have been. Nor was it advertised as such. Its advertising makes the film seem like a custody battle film like Kramer versus Kramer but with step son and granddad fighting over the kids. However, that wasn't the main point of the film.
The main conflict in the film was between the human past and the present, human utopian society versus the human dystopian present. The film shows us the downside of modern society, something they could have done more of to bring the idea home and to help us understand protagonist Ben's anti-capitalist, anti-modernist perspective. Sure, they show us shots of a Walmart and various big box and big chain stores. But those are shot from a moving vehicle at a distance. Why not have some shots of people entrapped in the shopping experience, buying ridiculous items they don't need. There was also the opportunity to show conspicuous consumption and the damage it does in various locales, grandpas house, grocery store, a diner.
Speaking of things we don't see: where are all the minorities that we know live in California? The family goes to a diner, a church, a housing complex, a grocery store, a trailer park, and in none of these places was a non-white person seen. In SoCal? I haven't seen a film this white since seeing Boyhood. But unlike Boyhood, this film dealt with important themes such as consumerism, capitalism, greed, entitlement, a persons desires after death, mental illness, personal autonomy versus group and societal responsibility and so on.
The problem is that when the film makers had the chance to bring these home, they dropped the ball. The family, because of their status and background were not actually on the brink as they appeared at first. They have a network of well off people who can rescue them. I don't mind that, but in a family that is so aware of philosophy and the political economy of Marx and others, educated in historical materialism, should have also known something about race. It would have added a lot to the film if the racial differences in class opportunity had been dealt with. What these portrayal ended succeeded at was highlighting the myopia of the American left.
Since the family is so fond of quotes, why not use a quote from Malcolm X, Frederick Douglas, Black Lives Matter, Medgar Evers or use this one from Angela Davis to point out that race affects economic status and is a tool capitalists use for domination: "Racism, in the first place, is a weapon used by the wealthy to increase the profits they bring in by paying Black workers less for their work." Then Ben could have pointed out, This has been true of Mexicans and other cultures, look at Cesar Chavez's struggle. And what of the stolen land and the Native Americans. In fact, there are several moments when the family could have honored Native Americans and shown respect. The director and writer didn't go far enough.
Not only would these quotes and acknowledgements have been in the spirit of the film, but it would have helped to break down the race barrier the film creates. That, and showing some non-white people in the film would have been great. For example, if Ben's oldest son had fallen for an African American, Native American, Latino, or Asian girl in the film instead of a the whitest girl in the state, race would have come to the forefront and the race/class quotes could have been utilized when people outside Ben's family overreacted to his son's attraction.
So utopia and socialism is presented as an only white concern. But don't we have enough of that already in film, pure white views of life?
On the plus side, the film shows many views on the consumerism versus collectivism scale, it's not boring or drawn out, and the end works well. Unlike "Swiss Army Man", the director didn't run away from the challenging ending.
The acting is stellar from the youngest child to Vigo Mortensen and the scene vacuuming Frank Langella as well as Ann Dowd playing grandma. The shots are adequate and the editing works fine. The use of wide shots and close ups, the variety of framing, helps us learn about the characters and the family. For example, as tensions rise between family members as well as Ben and his step father, we see the characters in close up. As the tension wanes, the shots become wider. The music was okay, and I especially like the use of a classic heavy metal song. Only now do I realize how well written it is.
What I learned was Vigo Mortensen is good looking with or without a beard, but more importantly, he's a great actor. I had not fully appreciated his talent before. I also learned that the issue of Hollywood so white is much deeper than I had known. If a film addressing progressive themes can be so blatantly white, what hope do we have for racial equality in the media, let alone the nation. The nation is racially segregated; there is no reason to make films that are even MORE segregated than society as a whole.
Rating: Matinée. I recommend the film for the acting and themes. It is well paced and doesn't draw out the ending. And the ending works. However, the film for all its introspection only touches the surface of theses issues.
Peace, Tex Shelters