lunedì 22 maggio 2017

Best Actor in a Leading Role 2016: Viggo Mortensen in Captain Fantastic

Viggo Mortensen received his second Oscar nomination for his performance as Ben Cash in Captain Fantastic.

Captain Fantastic is an effective movie about a man who, after the suicide of his wife, is forced to take his six children outside of their sheltered and isolated life in a forest and into the real world, challenging his views on parenthood and education. It's an extremely intelligent and thought-provoking movie thanks to a terrific screenplay that never becomes either judgemental nor indulgent but gives a honest depiction of both sides of the central argument instead. I remember being very surprised by ther SAG nomination for Best Ensemble back then, but I'd say it was actually very deserved: even if outside Mortensen - and, to a lesser extent, George MacKay - there are no real standouts but every actor do a very good job at avoiding the potential clichés of their roles and finding real people behind their character's quirks. 

The role of Ben Cash in an extremely tricky one that could have gone wrong in a million different ways: it requires the kind of actor that is able to make you sympathize with the character in spite of his flaws and one that can portray those flaws realistically without justifying nor condemning them. And most of all it requires an actor that have the skills to bring humanity and believability to what could have been an overdone caricature. Thankfully Viggo Mortensen is one of the most talented actors working today and he completely succeeds in the role delivering one of the most powerful, unique and memorable performances of last year. In the early scenes Mortensen mostly has two tasks: believably portray his character's deep convinction in his own beliefs and show Ben's love for his children. Mortensen is terrific in both aspects of his performance: in each of the "training" scenes, Mortensen brings the right sort of passion they require, showing how deeply Ben believes in the things he teaches them and how sincerely he thinks he is raising his kids in the best way possible. And there is never a single moment in the movie in which Mortensen makes you doubt of his character's love for his kids: he shares a terrific chemistry with all the six actors playing them and he exudes a lovely sense of warmth and tenderness in the few scenes depicting their lifestyle. Even in the moments in which it's easy to blame Ben for putting his kids in dangerous situations, Mortensen gives the viewer a clear understanding of his character's mindset.

In the early stages of the movie, whenever he gets the chance Mortensen does a terrific job at hinting at the man that Ben was before choosing that kind of lifestyle for himself and his family. There is never a moment in which Ben's past is directly addressed, shown or explained but there's really no need: Mortensen has such a great understanding of his character that he manages to get Ben's history across just through some facial reactions or small lines. In Mortensen's face you can read Ben's whole life and you don't need to know any further because right from the first few scenes you feel like you already know the character completely, and that's thanks to Mortensen' incredible ability to convey so much with so little. He's also incredibly moving in the few scenes in which Ben talks a bit about his wife Leslie, who stays in a hospital due to her mental illness: Mortensen is heartbreaking as he conveys so well both the love and the pain of his relationship with her. He handles his reaction at her suicide with such painful restraint it's absolutely devastating and he's also extremely moving in the following scene in which he breaks the news to his kids: his sad expression as he witnesses their pain and anger, unable to do anything, is just brilliant.

When the family decides to leave the forest in order to prevent Leslie's body from being buried (she was a Buddhist and wished to be cremated), Mortensen' performance is excellent as he combines so well both the comedy and the drama in his portrayal: on one hand, he's an effortlessly engaging presence on-screen and he's rather funny in the more light-hearted scenes ("Mission: free the food") but he's also quietly affecting in his portrayal of his inner pain. I particularly love the few scenes between him and Kathryn Hahn as his sister Harper, who raised her children in a more traditional manner: their exchanges about education are excellently acted on both ends, with both actors honestly portraying each character's point of view - I love how Mortensen is not afraid to portray his character as quite arrogant regarding his ideas, which is completely fitting considering that right from the beginning he did a fantastic job at portraying his utter dedication to his methods. The scene in which he interrupts Leslie's funeral is also hilarious thanks to how brilliantly measured Mortensen is - he delivers his speech in a way that is flamboyant enough but never even slightly over-the-top - and then he is heartbreaking in the following scene, in which he decides to let Leslie's purents bury her because, if they'll have him arrested as Leslie's father (Frank Langella) previously said, his kids would be left without parents. His reactions to his son's plea "We can't lose you too" is devastating.

My favorite aspect of his performance is his portrayal of Ben's gradual realization that his parenting methods might not be perfect as he thought: in his many confrontations with his resentful son Rellian, Mortensen is extremely moving at portraying his shock and pain due to his accusations, the ones regarding his education and the ones regarding his inability to save their mother. He's also incredible in the scene with George MacKay in which his son Bo tells him that "they're freaks" because of him: it's such a hard-hitting, powerful moment and in Mortensen's eyes you can see Ben's heart breaking. And he absolutely delivers in his main confrontation with Frank Langella: I love how Mortensen starts off as rather confident in the scene before becoming increasingly upset as he learns of his father-in-law's decision of taking the children away from him. Ben eventually reaches his breaking point after a mission he set out for his kids ends up with one of them being severely injured: Mortensen is absolutely devastating at portraying his character's guilt over his actions and he makes his eventual decision of letting the kids go extremely affecting. Mortensen keeps the tone of his performance extremely quiet and subdued, which makes his desperation even more heartbreaking: he conveys his inner turmoil and grief with such expressiveness in his eyes it's just astonishing - the sequence of him driving away alone is absolutely oustanding. His performance is what makes the final scenes of the movie so heartwarming, moving and powerful: that "Me too" in his reconciliation with Rellian and his final goodbye to Leslie are two unforgettable moments of stunning delicacy and poignancy. 

Overall, this is an incredible performance from Viggo Mortensen, who takes what could have been a horribly overdone character and delivers a subtle, complex, heartfelt performance. He carries the film thanks to his charming, engaging screen-presence, nailing the comedic moments and thriving in the dramatic ones. He gives a compelling characterization, showing both Bob's good qualities and his flaws and making him a character we truly care about. Absolutely amazing work that I'm extremely glad the Academy decided to recognize.