November 20, 2016 -- This movie harkens back the counter culture days of the 1960 with its Mother Earth News back to the land, “stick it to the man,” anti-capitalist story line. It reminds me a bit of films like “The Great Santini.”
A father, Ben (played by Viggo Mortenson of the “Lord of the Rings” movies) with almost supernatural parenting powers raises his kids alone in the wilderness. He not only teaches them in all subjects from civics, history, various languages, but quantum physics, too. He also drills them in climbing and wilderness skills so they attain the fitness of elite athletes.
After the death of his wife, Leslie (Trin Miller) the kids want to go to their mother's funeral, but their grandfather (played by Frank Langella) forbids Ben to attend the funeral since he blames Ben for the death of his daughter.
After some dithering, Ben loads the kids into a bus called “Steve” and heads out from the Pacific Northwest to his wife's funeral in New Mexico. In a very funny scene, a police officer boards the bus and asks why the kids are not in school. The kids chase him out by singing a religious song.
Since they don't have much money for food, and Ben disapproves of fast food, the family hunts game and livestock, and steals food from grocery stores. That is their way of “sticking it to the man.” Ben also has an unusually honest way of dealing with his children, talking openly and frankly about sex, death and other subjects parents like to avoid.
Another funny scene in an RV park during the trip has the oldest boy, Bo (George MacKay of “Defiance”) falls madly in love with Claire (Erin Moriarty) the first girl he has ever kissed. He proposes marriage to her and elicits laughter from Claire and her mother (played by Missi Pyle). Bo suddenly realizes that, although he has been taught a lot from books, there is much about the real world he does not know.
The clash of civilizations continues when Ben and the kids visit relatives on the trip and at the funeral. Bo, and another one of the kids, Rellian (Nicholas Hamilton) rebel against their father's rule. The rebellion, and a serious injury to one of the girls, Vespyr (Annalise Basso) makes Ben rethink his whole role as father to his children.
The acting is pretty good in the film, especially by Mortenson, but the dialog seems stilted and a bit formal. The kids don't talk like kids. They talk more like adults reading from a script in order to quickly convey a lot in a few words. Two of these youngsters, Zaja (Shree Crooks) and Nai (Charlie Shotwell) are quite cute, though. This is an enjoyable film, particularly in its humorous scenes. The dramatic scenes are more uneven. Some of the characters are captivating. This film rates a C+.
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