Viggo Mortensen received his second Oscar nomination for portraying Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic.
Viggo Mortensen is an actor I've always considered underrated since he's really one of the best working today. I have to say though there seems to be a strong contingent though that do seem to fully agree in terms of Mortensen's talent. I say this because Captain Fantastic marks the second time Mortensen's received an Oscar nomination without his film receiving a single other nomination, which means the man has support. I have to say it seems likely that if he ever gets a meaty role in a film the Academy loves beyond him, he'll probably be a shoe in for a win. But enough about how great Viggo Mortensen is, let's get onto talking about how great Viggo Mortensen is in this film. Mortensen plays Ben Cash a man who is a bit like a far less paranoid and sinister Harrison Ford from The Mosquito Coast. We come into the film with Mortensen who essentially plays an old hippie who actually took the initiative along with his wife to go off and live in the forest away from society, going so far as to raise their children right within the forest with little contact with the outside world.
Mortensen is already rather great from the first scene of the film where we see Ben take down a buck with his oldest, son Bodevan (George MacKay), where he proceeds to treat it like a coming to manhood ritual for Bo. Mortensen strikes this rather interesting balance between his performance given that Ben is half loving father and half survivalist technically speaking. Frankly it would have been very easy to overplay the role, which would not have fit the fairly down to earth tone of the film, given the strange nature of it. Mortensen though is able to pull it off, and makes sense of Ben's style of parenting. In these early moments where he has his children practice hand to hand combat, or has all his children scale the side of a mountain, Mortensen brings this certain intensity of a man who believes this to be a necessary teaching. Mortensen balances it so well though with his manner of delivery which is that of a strict yet caring teacher, rather some sort of psychopathic drill sergeant.
There is also something very important that Mortensen does as he sets up Ben's real nature. As we see him teaching the kids he does have that intensity and he brings the certain fire one would expect from someone who absolutely believes in what it is that he is teaching. That's not all Mortensen gives us to him though such as when we see him look upon some of his children's work, or when he receives a verbal lashing of sorts from his own son for misidentifying what type of communist he is. Mortensen is excellent in these moments as he shows us when Ben is not in teacher mode, he does have the insight of a man who has not always lived like this. Mortensen reveals this by portraying the way Ben is a bit taken aback whenever one of these moments happen with the children. Mortensen even echoes just a slight bit of how someone from the outside would react, as he reveals some early doubt in his performance. In that by showing the way Ben is a bit taken aback, Mortensen suggests an understanding in Ben that perhaps he has not given his children every thing they truly need.
Ben soon gets a more severe wake up call though when he is told that his wife, who was away supposedly for mental health reasons, has committed suicide. Mortensen's is very moving in the moment as we see his sadness, though there is even more there. Mortensen suggests perhaps Ben's later days with her as there is also a certain guilt that seems to reveal itself within his face as he attempts to understand what has happened. Ben reveals the news to his children and Mortensen is excellent as he does not do so as a the hippie survivalist mentor, but rather as just a father who cannot really explain the news to his children. Mortensen shows that Ben is actually rather lost as he cannot comfort his children nor deal with his middle son Rellian who lashes out in anger against his father. After this moment of grief though Mortensen attempts to get his kids back on track, and even seems to find a new "mission" for them by attempting to "save" their mother from the burial her parents attend to give her. Mortensen in this suggests kind of an old spark coming out of Ben, as he brings out that real fire again as he rallies his children to his cause.
As they go on the trip it ends up being the Cash family interacting with the "normals" in various ways, thankfully not with the typical misanthropy you'll find in some similarly minded films. Mortensen's terrific here in that he sometimes gives us the Ben as he was when he probably just met his wife and they decided on their specific course of living. In that Mortensen brings the attitude of a firebrand hippie who is all ready to debate with anyone in attempt to prove he is right. Mortensen offers the needed passion to this and in these scenes Mortensen gives us almost the default setting for the man whenever his way of life is questioned or tested by others. Mortensen is not one note in this such as in a pivotal scene where Rellian questions his father's choice of celebrating "Noah Chomsky Day". Mortensen initially breaks into Ben as the excessively sure of himself outsider snarkily asking him to defend Christmas as an alternative. When Rellian reacts like a son whose father is acting like a bit of a jerk rather than a debate opponent though, Mortensen in his quiet reaction powerfully shows the unease in Ben as senses that while he might be supporting his personal philosophy he isn't being a good father.
Mortensen's work here is brilliant as he captures this nuanced conflict in Ben as he attempts to reason out every aspect of his life. Mortensen never undercuts any aspect of this. In his "eulogy" for his wife Mortensen gives the conviction in Ben's almost vicious attack of sorts at the parents' choice of a funeral. Mortensen does carry a bit of the smugness of a man so sure of atypical ways, yet he also in the moment delivers in revealing an almost desperate love as he attempts to prevent his wife from being buried. Mortensen doesn't make it so simple again as in his pleas are not just a support for the wishes of her will, but also it conveys still this guilt in Ben over him possibly contributing to her death by wishing to hold onto their way of life. Eventually his ideas are directly confronted by his wife's father, Jack (Frank Langella), and the problem for Ben is Jack makes some good points. Mortensen is outstanding in the scene as he brings the attempt at passion of a father defending his choices yet within this he exudes the painful sense of doubt in this attempt. Mortensen shows this doubt grow all the more when one of his "missions" leave one of his kids severely injured. Mortensen, because of that, makes Ben's initial decision to leave his children with the grandparents believable, and also incredibly heartbreaking particularly through that palatable sadness he reveals as he drives away alone. Of course what I have not mentioned enough is Mortensen's chemistry with every one of the kids. It is all there, and he is pitch perfect in making you have a real sense of the history between them all. Even when Ben's on his highest of horses Mortensen still is able to give life to the connection between a father and his children. They feel like a real family even with their very unusual ways, and Mortensen is the center of it all. Mortensen here gives such a fantastic performance as he manages to craft this arc of Ben's so effectively to create such a poignant and complex portrait of man coming to terms with what he has done right for his family, but also what he has done wrong. It's phenomenal work from a phenomenal actor.