Thursday, March 27, 2014


(November 1986, U.S.)

Had Harrison Ford not been so damn impressive in Peter Weir's WITNESS (1985), there's a good chance I might not have bothered to see them re-team for THE MOSQUITO COAST. Let's face it - by the mid 1980s, Harrison Ford was Han Solo and Indiana Jones and it was beginning to look like he might not amount to a whole lot more than that. For myself, BLADE RUNNER (1982) changed much of that, but for most folks, it was WITNESS that brought him out of the action hero closet. Looking back now at his entire career, Ford has portrayed the hero in many popular forms. For this film, though, the actor breaks out into a role he can really sink his teeth into; a role that if watched and studied carefully enough, can cause the viewer to truly accept that Ford believes in the character he's playing and the beliefs he's promoting. This is a character who's true discontent for his country and it's negative values and philosophies and his ambition to try and make a difference is one that would have likely made author Ayn Rand very proud had she lived to see the film. Perhaps she lived long enough to read the original novel by Paul Theroux.

This film tells the story of Allie Fox (played by Ford), a man who leaves the United States with his wife and four children in a desperate search for a happier and simpler life in the jungles of Central America. However, their jungle paradise inevitably turns into a dystopian hell as their stubborn father's behavior becomes increasingly aggressive and erratic. When we first meet Allie, he doesn't hesitate to tell his oldest son Charlie (played by the late River Phoenix) and the viewing audience just how fed up he is with the so-called American Dream and American consumerism, believing that Americans "buy junk, sell junk and eat junk," and that there's an impending nuclear war on the horizon as a result of American greed and crime. His solution - leave! What immediately strikes me as interesting is just how willing and enthusiastic the rest of his family, particularly his wife whom he only refers to as "Mother" (played by Helen Mirren), are to going along with him and just abandon their home and their life. So, with the consent of the Belize government, Allie purchases a small village called "Jeronimo" in the Panama rain forest along the river. The family meets the local inhabitants and they all proceed to start building a new, "advanced" civilization, in the process inventing many new things that have never been seen before in this part of the world. The locals take kindly to Allie and his family, but Allie's will to build a utopic civilization keeps them working to their limits. Allie becomes increasingly fanatical in his desires to change the world around him and in the process, denounce all religious structure and discipline being practices by a missionary occupying the same region. His ultimate goal during all of his creation is a giant machine that will produce ice, something new to the locals and other neighboring tribes. It's only a chance meeting with the wrong sort of men (with guns) that brings Allie's paradise and productive ice machine into an exploding and toxic disaster. His solution - go back home? We wish! Allie is now a man of irrational thought and process, taking his family further down the unknown river and into a part of the world that they may not likely survive. It's only through his eventual murder (by a missionary, of all people!), that the hope of returning to civilization and freedom manages to shine through on this poor family.

The irony of this film is truly astounding, in my opinion. It's the one film where Harrison Ford absolutely shines in exemplary fashion as a dramatic and literary actor. It's also one of the few films of his impressive film career that didn't score too well with the box office or the critics (though it's considerably more popular today). What does that tell you about the average multiplex movie-going moron? That intelligent drama and Harrison Ford simply don't mix? That any story involving strength and survival in a primitive setting that doesn't involve GILLIGAN'S ISLAND or the reality show still fourteen years away, SURVIVOR, is simply not worth their time or their ticket money? Who can honestly account for or try to rationalize these things? But for those who read this now and are willing to take heed of my words, it's important to know that director Peter Weir orchestrates the action of THE MOSQUITO COAST to match Allie Fox's progressive mental state, from rage to explosion to ocean squalls and finally to hurricane velocity. In the end, we're literally left feeling exhausted having just watched the entire saga of one man's madness unfold in front of us. Exhaustion may not exactly be the typical bullshit happy Hollywood ending too many people crave after two hours of film time, but it works here because while many of us seek our true paradise, too many of us come up empty-handed. That's exhausting!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Allie Fox: "We eat when we're not hungry, drink when we're not thirsty! We buy what we don't need and throw away everything that's useful! Why sell a man what he wants? Sell him what he doesn't need! Pretend he's got eight legs and two stomachs and money to burn! It's wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong!"

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