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dir-scr Matt Ross
prd Monica Levinson, Jamie Patricof, Shivani Rawat, Lynette Howell Taylor
with Viggo Mortensen, George MacKay, Samantha Isler, Annalise Basso, Nicholas Hamilton, Shree Crooks, Charlie Shotwell, Frank Langella, Ann Dowd, Kathryn Hahn, Steve Zahn, Missi Pyle
release US 8.Jul.16, UK 9.Sep.16
16/US eOne 1h58
Field trip: MacKay, Mortensen, Isler and Basso
SUNDANCE FILM FEST
CANNES FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E|
An offbeat family drama about big ideas, this meandering movie confronts the general complacency of the American public. It's an all-out assault, really, but the powerful point will most likely be lost on viewers already set in their beliefs. Still, those open to being challenged and seeing through new eyes will find it riveting.
On an isolated farm in the Pacific Northwest, Ben (Mortensen) is giving his six kids an intense education that combines books, music and survivalism. Eldest son Bodevan (MacKay) has just been accepted at all of the top universities, while middle son Rellian (Hamilton) is questioning this bohemian lifestyle. Then their mother dies and they decide to attend her funeral, against the wishes of her parents (Langella and Dowd). En route they visit Ben's sister and brother-in-law (Hahn and Zahn), beginning to understand how out of step they are with society. And there's more trouble ahead.
Yes, there's a double-edge to the themes, as Ben's anti-establishment teachings has given his children razor-sharp minds, but their political views are diametrically opposed to the masses. They also have no idea how to function socially beyond their siblings. Writer-director Ross cleverly makes every side of the various arguments easy to relate to, while giving extra heft to the emotional desire of these children to give their mother the send-off she wanted.
Mortensen is effortlessly natural in this role, exuding zen-like charm, earthy proficiency and bright-eyed honesty, even in the face of opposition. He's sharply matched by the terrific MacKay, while Isler, Basso and Hamilton get strong scenes of their own, and Crooks and Shotwell add energy as the youngsters. Meanwhile, Langella manages to carefully balance a role that could have tipped over into villainy.
This is clearly a movie for an educated audience, with its witty references to Trotsky and Chomsky. But these things only add texture to what is actually a sensitive exploration of two men beginning to understand their place in the world. Both Ben and Bodevan are smart and talented, but need to develop their abilities to interact with others. So while there are elements of this film that are abrasive and a bit shouty, this is also a quietly moving story that may wake up some audience members from their slumber.
As Noam Chomsky puts it: "If you assume that there is no hope, you guarantee that there will be no hope. If you assume that there is an instinct for freedom, that there are opportunities to change things, then there is a possibility that you can contribute to making a better world."
|R E A D E R R E V I E W S|
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© 2016 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall|
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