Criterion Prediction #123: The Mosquito Coast, by Alexander Miller
Title: The Mosquito Coast
Director: Peter Weir
Cast: Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren, River Phoenix, Conrad Roberts, Martha Plimpton, Andre Gregory
Synopsis: Outspoken inventor Allie Fox (Ford) decides to transplant his family to the remote jungle of Belize to create self-governed utopia due to his overwhelming disapproval of modern society. But Allie compromises his family’s safety when his aggressive and controlling ego dominates and pollutes his vision of a self-governed paradise.
Critique: The Mosquito Coast is one of those movies that only Peter Weir could make. It’s a complicated story about family, the damaging power of the patriarchal ego, the woes of modern society, the inherent perils of creating a utopia, survival, loyalty, colonialism, and betrayal. It’s a political narrative told through a personal lens, and there’s an ambitious tone with an air of adventure, but it’s cautiously moody; Weir’s tuning of scale and cadence renders an atmospheric object lesson that is both potently stirring and emotionally engaging. As a director, Peter Weir is at his best when his characters are engaged in nature, as evidenced by his body of work he graciously imbues an earthy ambiance to what could have been a preachy epic. But the deliberate dialogue come from Ford’s commanding performance of Allie, a complicated character to realize but Ford is committed, while he’s often channeling his profile as a movie star here, we see him act. Ford flourishes and so does the late River Phoenix (from whose point of view the story is told) Helen Mirren, Conrad Roberts, and the underutilized Martha Plimpton are visibly dedicated.
A collectively engaging account of westernization that deftly connects a sense of the supernatural with the tangential framework of a family in tumult, The Mosquito Coast is a rare case being a socially conscious adventure film that works as a family drama.
Why it Belongs in the Collection: The Mosquito Coast is low-key epic and a lesser seen masterpiece; those are qualifiers for the Criterion treatment. And it’s inclusion would be consistent with the presence of its director, who is a relatively large player in Criterion’s history with his classic Picnic at Hanging Rock being a significant, early release. Should The Mosquito Coast come our way, maybe cross our fingers and hope that Fearless is not far behind?