BLEECKER STREET (2016)

Director: Matt Ross

Starring: Viggo Mortensen, Frank Langella, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, George MacKay

Panning across the Pacific Northwest woodlands, deep in the forest a deer is being stalked by a camouflaged boy, moments later the deer is being slashed and killed by the camouflaged boy. From within the forest, a camouflaged family appears and the father smears the blood of the animal onto the boy’s face – this is a rite of passage ritual.

The wood dwelling family is comprised of father Ben Case (Mortensen), deer killer Bodevan (MacKay), younger brother Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton), teen sisters Kielyr (Samantha Isler) and Vespyr (Annalise Basso) and younger siblings Zaja (Shree Crooks­) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell) and it’s clear they aren’t a typical US family.

Matt Ross’ second feature film is a confidently shot affair, focusing on the idea that organic living is a far better alternative than to be swallowed by the consumerist ‘real’ world – with family bonds a key element, and the argument as to whether the methods imparted reap positive outcomes, or are in fact, negligent and dangerous. It doesn’t attempt to tell you which direction is ‘better’, instead seemingly asking the viewer to question how one should live.

The movie goes into great detail to delve into the family’s modest dwellings, and their huge collections of books, weapons/tools and survival items, and also sells the idea that this primitive, yet unspoilt, way of life holds huge benefits – athletic, highly intelligent and respectful children and an idealistic father who believes his methods are the only way. Unfortunately, this only opens up the obvious divide when social interaction is required (see Bodevin’s awkward encounters with his campsite crush Claire (Erin Moriarty)) and a lack of understanding of what the world is really like – not just what the pages of the book say.

Viggo Mortensen is great as the individualist who is stoic in his beliefs, but also poignantly accepting that his methods may in fact not be what is best for his children. His manner is perfect for the role (it’s my belief this is how Mortensen would prefer to live if he had the choice!) and his rugged, brash style is ideal for the face offs against the ‘outsiders’ of the real world. He’s not afraid to go all out and get naked it seems as well.

The brood of children are all well cast and are given individual moments of the spotlight throughout the movie, and their interactions feel natural together as well – thankfully. Young Shree Crooks and Charlie Shotwell are great in their roles, highly intelligent children who at the same time require teaching on the ways of sexual intercourse, and excited to receive knives (and a copy of “The Joy of Sex”) as weapons on “Noam Chomsky Day” – the family’s alternative to Christmas Day. George MacKay shines as the oldest child, intelligent enough to be accepted by America’s most prestigious Universities, however falls apart around women. Frank Langella is the bitter father-in-law, totally at odds with Ben’s methods and it is hard to ascertain whether he is the villain of the piece, or the voice of reason, such is the quality of writing and the performance.

The film is also delightfully comedic in an offbeat, black manner – the foul mouthed kids, the honest teachings of sex and other subjects to the children – and also visually, as the bohemian family turns up to the church dressed as thrifty as you could imagine offset to the clean whites of the church and the crisp blacks of the suits.

The visual of the movie is beautiful, with the ramshackle nature being portrayed with respect and realism vs. the home lives of the extended family and the places the families travels take them to. The woodland scenes aren’t over-saturated with lingering wide shots of the area, instead focusing more on the utopia the family has created and creating a smaller environment, as opposed to the longer, wider shots used for the real world to amplify the scale and difference in lifestyle. The soundtrack also peaks at the right moments throughout, provided by Alex Somers, and also Jonsi of Sigur Ros.

There are nit-picks throughout, but maybe the answers to them wouldn’t be a surprise – where did the money come from for a cross country jaunt? The stealing scenes don’t entirely add up to the picture painted previously. The possible immorality of carting a dug up body across a country (that one was explained as a final goodbye and a family bonding moment, so fair enough) is the ending too sentimental considering what came before? Personally, not for me, it’s just a slight progression from one way of life to another.

A thought-provoking, endearing and charming movie, Captain Fantastic asks enough questions, and poses enough ideas, to keep the viewer engaged, and blended with a fabulous cast and well-crafted script leaves us with a great all round movie. It stuck it to this man!

October 20th 2016

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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