How far can one person take an ideology before it becomes extremism and they begin to put their life and those of their loved ones in danger? Peter Weir is a painstakingly meticulous filmmaker yet somehow lets his intensely focused visions breathe so organic and free, and he explores this notion in The Mosquito Coast, a curious and brilliant film that looks at the journey of one family from rural Massachusetts to the wilds of coastal Honduras.
Harrison Ford is Allie Fox, an inventor who loathes bloated American consumerism and wishes to leave for something more practical, more elemental. He packs up and along with his wife (Helen Mirren) and four children (River Phoenix, Jadrian Steele, Rebecca and Hilary Gordon), leaves the US behind for good in favour of the Central American jungle. Buying a solid few acres, he bands together with locals to create agricultural structure and engineering innovation in this nearly untouched frontier. For a while he’s successful, and life is good, if a little chaotic and unorthodox. But is it all enough? Obstacles arise as they naturally would in such a wild card of a region, but ultimately he finds that the biggest hurdle to face is his own stubborn, obstinate and eventually dangerous nature.
Allie is an undeniably gifted man whose work bears actual merit unlike many bumpkin blowhard inventors in cinema and he succeeds in some of his ventures. The thing is, and this is how the character struck me anyways, this guy has always probably had the seeds of an unstable trajectory in his personality for a while and such an upheaval of life probably accelerated it. He becomes borderline psychotic as the film wears on and I found myself feeling sympathetic, sad and finally downright scared for his family. But what to make of the man himself? Ford is absolutely brilliant and so unlike his usual heroic, steady eyed self. There’s a sinewy mettle that gets him a good distance of the way, but as soon as things start to not go *his* way for long enough, he unravels and it’s quite a disarming thing to see. Weir observes with tact and patience as Maurice Jarre’s ambient score bears witness and John Seale’s lush cinematography intoxicates the screen. This is a very compelling achievement but it’s somehow hard for me to describe exactly how it affected me so; it’s a difficult, often sad, touching and very unique experience that explores one man’s place in the world or at least how hard he tries to find it and flounders in the process. In doing so it makes one think of humanity across all the continents, our place in both nature and infrastructure and how both, one or even none of those may satisfy or make restless any given individual. I would say this is one of Peter Weir’s best films but considering the guy has uniformly made only excellent work throughout his career, the fact that it’s made by this wonderful artist should just speak for itself. Highly recommended.
Witness is one of those films that in the hands of a less inspired director could have turned out to be pretty run of the mill thriller stuff, but they gave the script to Peter Weir, and he’s made a career out of films that could be called just about anything but run of the mill. This is essentially a fairly grounded tale of big city detective Harrison Ford undercover in Amish country to protect a young boy (Lukas Haas) who accidentally saw a cabal of corrupt cops murder someone in cold blood. It’s a fish out of water tale, it’s got budding romance, hot blooded action and even some comedy here and there. But there’s also this lyrical, esoteric atmosphere Weir brings to every project that really makes it something special. There’s a danger present in the Amish community, or rather the threat of such as seen in the long grass of the fields or sensed on the fringes of their village where the tree line looms. There’s a blessed calm as Ford learns the ways and customs of these folk and gets close with the daughter (Kelly McGillis) of one of their elders (Jan Rubes, a scene stealer) but alongside that there’s this restless, inexorable foreboding that these evil officers of the law could turn up at anytime and turn the calmness into a storm to follow. They eventually do, of course, and are played by the fearsome likes of Josef Sommer and Danny Glover, arriving like phantoms to herald a showdown of stealth and gun violence that is Western to its core but still stings with the grit of an urban cop flick. I love this film not so much for the story or script (both of which are just fine) but for the *feeling* it evokes, the ambience spun onscreen by Weir and composer Maurice Jarre, whose work here is ecstatically beautiful. There’s an extended sequence where we see the Amish folk building a barn and it’s a simple enough task, but something about the dutiful way Weir films it coupled with an almost grandiose passage of Jarre’s music makes it come alive in a way that not many scenes of its nature do in film. And always, lurking in the background, is the fear that danger is on its way, a sustained distillation of unease that helps to make this a gorgeous, effective thriller and all round great film.
A plane falls out of the sky and crashes in a cornfield. Some of the passengers survive. Others do not. No one involved is ever the same after. Such is the premise of Peter Weir’s Fearless, a complicated, challenging, unconventional and altogether brilliant piece that goes a lot deeper than most Hollywood produced films are allowed to. Jeff Bridges is Max Klein, a man who emerges serenely from the wreck having saved multiple lives and undergone a personal change that can’t be made clear in a scene or two, but rather takes the film it’s whole runtime to explore. While the entire plane is in full panic, Max reaches a sort of tranquility in the face of death, and instead of freaking out he very lucidly gets up and joins a young boy who’s alone on the flight and comforts him. When they land and he survives, his relationship to those around him is affected including his wife (Isabella Rossellini), young son, a trauma counsellor (John Turturro hired by the airline) and others. Most fascinating is the time spent with Carla (Rosie Perez) a fellow crash survivor whose newborn baby wasn’t so lucky, leaving her in a pit of grief. They share something together that no one, audience included, can fully understand because they weren’t there. The beauty of it is that Bridges and Perez can’t really know either, but the magic of both their performances is that they make you believe they’re in this extraordinary situation for real. Bridges never plays it with a messianic or mystical aura like some would, he’s always straight up and kindly which works wonders for this character. Perez is a revelation, soulful and heartbroken but never cloying or panhandling for our tears, she earns them fair and square. I’m not one too get too heated about Oscar snubs but it’s a crime she got beat out by Marisa Tomei that year for fluff like My Cousin Vinny. Peter Weir is a thoughtful director whose films are always high concept stories, but are also always character driven to provide that balance. He’s interested not in spectacle or sensationalism here but the difficult questions that others might gloss over or be too afraid to think about. There’s two scenes revolving around the crash, one of the aftermath and an extended one of the incident itself playing out that reach a level that sticks with you long after the credits roll. Not an easy film to classify or describe in a review, but the rare Hollywood picture that tackles concepts well above what we’re used to seeing. Great film.
Roger Donaldson’s No Way Out is a prime example of how to stage an effective thriller, every step of the way and even when things get twisty in a time before every other film had a thunderclap twist midway through. Kevin Costner plays a navy officer operating out of the Pentagon and reporting to the secretary of defence, played by a shady Gene Hackman. He has a stormy affair with mysterious Sean Young, not knowing she is also Hackman’s side chick, and when she turns up dead a whole nightmare of a situation escalates for everyone involved. It’s great fun to see events spiral out of control until everyone is a frantic wreck and we’re just as lost for clues as they are. Then, the pieces slowly fall together and we are blessed with gradual revelation, a few delicious ‘aha!’ moments and one mother of a midway plot twist that lands in the narrative like a screeching cruise missile. Costner is subdued but keen, Hackman is his usual fired up charismatic hotshot, and the film benefits greatly from their crackling collaborate star-power. A knockout supporting turn comes our way from Will Patton, who is unnervingly twitchy as another operative doing his maniacal best to perpetuate a cover up. Maurice Jarre whips up a great score to accent the intrigue, while Donaldson’s direction is surefire skill. A premier 80’s political thriller, one of several launching pads for Costner’s career, and a bitchin’ great time at the movies.