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.
Sam Shepherd’s Silent Tongue is a bizarre one. The writer/director is usually in succinct, assured control of his art but here he kinds of makes a mess in the sandbox, literally since this is set in the deserts of the American Southwest. There are some outright fantastic ideas at play here and scenes of striking beauty and chilling poetic morbidity, but the narrative isn’t fixed together solidly enough and much of it is lost on the viewer in a hail of haphazard scenes and a story that barrels along with scant exposition, a complaint that you will rarely, if ever hear from me, but here we are.
This is River Phoenix’s last film before an untimely passing, and it finds him sitting half crazed out on the frontier, grieving the death of his halfbreed Kiowa wife Awbonnie (Sheila Tousey), who perished during childbirth. He’s an already slow kid who is driven positively mad by this tragedy, and sits there with her corpse on a makeshift alter howling at the moon and brandishing a giant rifle at anyone and anything who comes near them. Because of his refusal to give her proper burial rights, she comes back as a vengeful, spooky ghost to harass and haunt him, something like a desert legend crossed with a spectral Kabuki costume. Elsewhere the boy’s distraught father (Richard Harris) returns to the dusty travelling circus where he bought Awbonnie in hopes of purchasing her twin sister Velada (Jeri Arredondo) to console his son out there on the plains. The circus owner and father of the two (Alan Bates) is less than cooperative when he learns of his first child’s passing and his son (Dermot Mulroney) is downright hostile. Seeing no other option, Harris kidnaps the girl and high tails it for the desert enclave where Phoenix sits and Awbonnie roams around like a lost soul tormenting him.
This isn’t a pretty boy western, a shoot em up or a cowboy picture, it’s a gnarly, fucked up frontier horror story populated by strange people and punctuated by odd, supernatural occurrences and disturbing flashbacks involving the mother of the two Kiowa girls (Tantoo Cardinal), who is called Silent Tongue for a very specific and unsettling reason. Phoenix is convincingly unhinged and plays the horror well, Harris is weary and understated, while Mulroney seems miscast and stumbles over the articulate western dialogue. It’s Bates who takes the cake though as the constantly drunk circus owner who has to face his past out there on the plains, he practically fills up the whole runtime with his ranting and raving, it’s a wonder he could sustain that level of mania for an entire performance. Tousey is intense and elemental as the ghost, adorned in eerie makeup and face paint and spewing out freaky threats in a guttural voice. Shepherd tries his best to anchor everything in symbolism and provide a story that makes sense, but it simply gets lost in a muddle and ends up making little emotional impact, which is kind of unforgivable because this story technically *does* make sense when you work it out in your head and *should* make a landing like that. I’m not usually one for remakes but this one practically begs for it because the story and ideas are so beautiful and full of potential, but the execution turned into kind of an inconsequential shit show. Shame. Great score by Patrick O’Hearn though.