Someone once said that ignorance is bliss; and if you follow through the reasoning process that leads to that conclusion, you discover that it is, indeed, true. Another way of saying it would be, that the less you know, the happier you are likely to be; kind of a `what you don't know can't hurt you' perspective, but true, nevertheless. Conversely then, what can be said about knowledge? About knowing too much? Can genius, for example, be equated with a life of torment? Can knowing-- and more precisely, understanding-- too much bring about anguish and unhappiness? The answer to that , of course, cannot be absolute, for there are a number of variables that must first be factored in, one of the most prevalent being that thin line that separates the true genius from madness, and how close to which side of that line the individual in question resides. It's a situation examined in depth by director Peter Weir, in his riveting, thought provoking drama, `The Mosquito Coast,' starring Harrison Ford, Helen Mirren and River Phoenix.
Allie Fox (Ford) is a family man; he has a devoted wife, `Mother (Mirren),' and four children, the eldest of whom, Charlie (Phoenix), thinks his dad is a genius. Which he is. Allie Fox is an inventor who believes it's man's job to tinker with an unfinished world and make it work. He is also a true individual, the epitome of the man who marches to his own drum-- and in his case, his drum is the `only' one he will march to. He sees such potential in everything around him, but he also sees that very same potential being wasted at every turn by seemingly everyone, from the average guy just trying to make a living, to a Corporate America he sees as the impetus that has already begun to destroy the nation. All around him he sees a country and a people that has lost that spirit that made America strong; he sees ruin and decay in everything: In the lack of quality in any and all manufactured goods, and in the apathy of the acquiescent consumer. And he's had enough. Refusing to stand by and watch America die, he packs up and moves his family to a remote section of a jungle in Central America, near the coast of La Moskitia; and it is there that he discovers a land, that to him, is paradise-- and where he also encounters the demons that plague those who know too much, and feel too deeply.
Working from an intelligent and penetrating screenplay by Paul Schrader (adapted from the novel by Paul Theroux), Weir delivers a thoroughly engrossing character study that parallels Werner Herzog's 1972 masterpiece, `Aguirre, The Wrath of God,' inasmuch as it examines the effects of self-perceived omnipotence in an individual driven to extreme measures by a singular quest for power and autonomy (albeit in different times and with different motives). Allie Fox, like Don Lope de Aguirre, becomes a victim of his own obsession, consequently victimizing those around him, as well, by losing sight of his own ideals and getting swept away in the current of a distorted sense of purpose. Allie leaves an environment he perceives as defective for one that is ultimately equally flawed-- that being the environs within his own mind. All of which is hauntingly presented by Weir, aided by John Seale and Maurice Jarre, whose cinematography and score, respectively, helps to create the atmosphere that so effectively underscores the drama of the story.
As Allie Fox, Harrison Ford gives a performance that is one of his best and most powerful ever, affecting a commanding presence that dominates virtually every scene-- so compelling that his presence is felt even when he is absent from the screen. This isn't a character you are going to like, necessarily; and yet you are going to care about him, because there's something in him that reflects and addresses concerns that are universal, which makes Allie someone to whom many in the audience will be able to relate and identify. He's the man who believes that he truly `can' be an island unto himself, and beyond his personal peccadilloes, that is the kind of strength that demands admiration; for at the same time, it enables forgiveness. It's a solid portrayal of a man at cross purposes with himself, who realizes to some extent what he is doing, yet adamantly refuses to back down. And this is the man Ford brings to life so vividly; he's convincing, and his Allie Fox is disconcertingly real.
Helen Mirren also turns in a memorable performance as Allie's devoted wife, whom he calls `Mother.' Mirren says more without dialogue-- through a subtle expression, or even the merest glance-- than most actors do with a limitless number of words. And it's her moments of silence that are some of the most telling of the film, while at the same time adding strength to the lines she does recite. In the end, Mirren creates a character who chooses her words well, then uses them wisely-- and it's a portrayal that is, without question, one of the strengths of the film. In the way Mother looks at Allie, Mirren conveys that love and absolute loyalty that makes everything they do believable. There is complete trust there, which you can feel when, standing in her kitchen, for example, she gives a final glance at the dishes piled high in the sink; a glance at the life she's leaving behind to follow her husband. And she's happy. In it's simplicity and brevity, it's a powerful scene that says so much about who she is, and who `they' are. And Mirren makes it work beautifully.
Phoenix does a solid job, too, providing the narrative of the film as Charlie. He is perfectly cast as Ford's son, and he succeeds in giving `The Mosquito Coast' that sense of reflection and perspective that makes it a truly memorable, and emotionally involving, film. 9/10.
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