When I was a kid I watched a lot of movies, I still do, but as a kid television and movies were a major part of my life. They were an escape from my life. My childhood wasn’t great, in fact like many of us, it was downright miserable at times. Movies and television allowed me to escape that. It allowed me to go places outside of my reality. (Books, music and Video Games would later end up in that mix but that’s not what this is about.)
There were key movies in my life that helped to make me who I am today. Movies that I have loved from the moment the opening credit rolled and still love now. This blog series is about those, My guilty pleasures, my favorites, my escapes. Some were very popular, others not so much. Some of these will have some real life take-aways, others are just for fun.
Today we discuss The Mosquito Coast.
Today’s Key Movie:
The midlife crisis. It is a well documented event in every man’s life that has become the subject of many comedies, horrors and dramas for decades. In many ways this event, the moment when a person reaches an age where they begin to doubt they accomplishments, has become synonymous with middle age and the crazy antics of men who try to redirect their perceived change of life. Some people take an extra-marital lover, others buy a boat, in today’s film, the subject in question moves his entire family to another country to literally start over.
When Inventor Allie Fox hits a wall in his life he decides to leave America with his family and move to Central America with the goal of forming a utopia in the jungle all based on ice. Starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, and River Phoenix this is a film about change and how sometimes that change is not for the better.
Why this movie?
I didn’t get to see this film when it first came out as it was simply not my taste at the time. I was more into horror, scifi and comedies to appreciate more dramatic films and, also, I was only around 8 years old so I probably would not have appreciated it if I had seen it. By the time I watched it, I had already become a fan of Harrison Ford and River Phoenix. Their appearances in the third Indiana Jones film made me comment that I wish they had had a chance to act together and I was quickly informed that not only had they worked together more directly it was in a film that was probably both of their best work to date. So, finding a copy on VHS, I sat down and gave it a go only to find that this was certainly something special.
You like it, but is it really a ‘good’ movie?
The Mosquito Coast is not one for a casual viewer. This is one of those films that really has layers to it that resonate more and more the older you get. When I first watched this film back in the late 90’s I saw it as a story about a man who takes his family to a foreign country only to put them through hell. It was a tragedy and one that I didn’t fully understand until much later in life.
Told from the perspective of Allie’s eldest son Charlie (Phoenix) we follow the Fox family of six as they head deep into the South American jungle where Allie buys a town and begins to try and build a utopia based on contradicting his disappointments of modern life. Allie is a desperate man, a man who sees America as a failing land and modern decadence as a scourge to be purged. In many ways Allie is a representation of many American’s today, people who are dissapointed and disillusioned with the world as a whole but, unlike so many of today’s people, he chooses to move and make a change. Through hard labor and dedication, things look good at first but, as with all tragic tales, bad tidings are always just around the corner, much of which is due to Allie’s own hubris. I won’t get into the details but, despite the positive start, this film takes a dark turn and that is where the story really begins.
The cast in this film is tremendous. While most people know Harrison Ford as Han Solo or Indiana Jones, there are a number of roles outside of his most famous where he really shows his talent as an actor. This is certainly one of them. There is not a moment in the film where you do not believe that Ford is Allie Fox. In fact, his rants about the downfall of modern civilization and his constant drive for perfection in the film is so believable that at times it is hard to tell where Ford ends and Allie begins. Watching this film again there are so many moments in this film where I found myself saying, ‘If he had just stopped there’ but, with each success, Allie can not seem to get out of his own way and Harrison captures that hubris to a tee.
While Ford is certainly the lead in the film, it is through Helen Mirren, River Phoenix and the rest of Allie’s children that we really experience the pain and struggle that the story presents. At almost every turn, despite their constant support of Allie’s Madness, the family is treated no better than labor to be exploited. They are verbally, mentally and sometimes physically abused regularly, sometimes on purpose but mostly through the neglect and poor judgement of their father in his pursuit of a better world. Their depiction of the Fox Family is tremendous and frankly Mirran, Phoenix and the rest sometimes nearly upstage Ford providing him with a very solid supporting cast. While we have gotten a chance to see Mirren develop into a very well known actor, this film gives us a glimpse into what we could have had with River Phoenix had he not passed away at such an early age. It is clear that this young man had talent beyond his years and his loss was certainly a devastating one.
In addition to the core cast there is a wonderful supporting cast that flesh out the world around them including Dick O’Neil, William Newman, Martha Plimpton, Andre Gregory, and the wonderful Conrad Roberts. Interestingly, this film marks one of Jason Alexander’s first films in the role of a hardware store clerk.
Watching this film now I realize it serves as a warning to us all. This film is about the rise and fall of hubris, about how your actions have lasting effects on everyone around you, no matter how small. It is a lesson and one that so many people fail at learning in the world we live in. Take heed in the story of Allie Fox for it might be your own one day if you are not careful.
Overall, this is a wonderful and tragic tale that somehow is not very well known despite the fame of Ford and the tragedy of Phoenix. This is one of those hidden gems that you might have run across in video stores in the past and one that you still may stumble upon when digging through a bargain bin in a mass retailer. Everything in the film is perfect, from the cinematography to the actors to the very tone. Director Peter Weir, who previously worked with Ford on Witness, manages to tell a tale that you will likely never forget.
OK, where do I get this movie?
As I mentioned above, you will likely find this one in the bargain bins in your local video or grocery store and, frankly, you should grab a copy if you do. It frequently turns up in Harrison Ford movie collections as well. To say this film is a triumph is an understatement, this film is a masterpiece in every way.
As usual, the trailer:
Late To The Game 9/19/2019
If you would like to read more reviews please check out the rest of the Key Movies Of My Life that comes out every Thursday.
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