Film: The Mosquito Coast (1986)
The Principals: Director:
Peter Weir, Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix, Conrad Roberts, Andre Gregory, Martha Plimpton, Dick O’Neill, Jadrien Steele, Michael Rogers, Hilary Gordon, Rebecca Gordon, Jason Alexander.
A brilliant but eccentric and obsessive inventor, Allie Fox 9Ford) is disenchanted with the pursuit of the American Dream and uproots his family to the jungles of Belize in order to build a more Utopian society. At first his pursuit – aided by his ability to fix and invent things – yields a nearly idyllic existence with the locals. But more and more, as their home is threatened by a missionary preacher, local armed rebels and nature herself, his obsessions overtake him and threaten to doom his family.
Is It Good: It’s fantastic, probably Harrison Ford’s most misunderstood and underappreciated film, coming at a time when he was the king of the blockbusters and right after he had just collaborated with director Peter Weir on their iconic Witness. Weir got another heartfelt performance from Ford and surrounded him with talent that were equally up to the task, including Helen Mirren and a young River Phoenix. In some ways, Ford is almost unrecognizable as the single-minded Allie, who’s initially good intentions and intellectual gifts are consumed by a growing paranoia and unwillingness to neither compromise his ideals nor listen to anyone else but himself. Mirren is also quite good as his long-suffering wife, “mother,” and Phoenix, hot off of Stand By Me, proved that that outing was no fluke, as he narrates the gradual decline of his father. Andre Gregory is instantly unlikable as the missionary preacher, Reverend Spellgood, and Conrad Roberts is instantly the opposite as the kindhearted local, Mr. Haddy.
Weir’s film runs a gamut from a sense of adventure to a palpable sense of foreboding and outrage during a critical second act encounter with some armed rebels, to an air of pessimism and regret near the end. The rebels decide to set up shop in the Foxes’ home, which Allie has rigged to be a minor paradise, complete with giant ice making machine. His handling of that situation is the turning point of the film and a major indicator that, despite his best intentions, Allie’s obsessive nature is probably not going to lead to a good outcome for him, if not his whole family.
Is It Worth A Look: Absolutely. Witness, The Mosquito Coast and Frantic might be Ford’s best acting trifecta of his career, and two of those came via his collaboration with Weir. Said Ford of the film: It’s the only film I have done that hasn’t made its money back. I’m
still glad I did it. If there was a fault with the film, it was that it
didn’t fully enough embrace the language of the book (by Paul Theroux).
It may have more properly been a literary rather than a cinematic
exercise. But I think it’s full of powerful emotions.
Random Anecdotes: The film was the last appearance for Butterfly McQueen, and featured the future George Costanza in a small role. Also, Ford and Weir, who were both nominated for Oscars for Witness, had to miss the Oscars due to filming this movie. Roger Ebert called the film “boring.”
Cinematic Soulmates: Witness, The Beach.