Martin Carr reviews Apple TV+’s The Mosquito Coast…
In 1986 Paul Shrader and Peter Weir tackled The Mosquito Coast on film. They created in the process a densely layered allegorical diatribe on the evils of consumerism. With Harrison Ford as the headliner and strong support from River Phoenix, it intentionally undermined an era defined by crass commercialism. The Eighties embodied excess, thriving on iconography which flaunted that fact. Paul Theroux’s source material was at odds with the time and this intellectual adaptation never found an audience. It would take fourteen years and the release of American Psycho before audiences could look back and laugh at themselves.
Thankfully, almost thirty five years later screenwriter Neil Cross has taken a more commercial approach. Rather than being a purist and sticking religiously to the text, this version keeps its family firmly on US soil. Although the thematic undertones of invasive government oversight and rampant commercialism are present, this iteration quickly morphs into something more engaging.
Justin Theroux’s Allie Fox is less unhinged genius and more resourceful pragmatist. Although the speeches about needless consumption are present and correct, Neil Cross has laced Allie’s introduction with ambiguities. Hints of cyber espionage, telecommunication talents and street smarts make him oddly relatable.
Melissa George’s Margot also comes across as worldly wise yet intellectually grounded, in an opening hour which focuses on world building. These first sixty minutes meander, getting audiences comfortable with the Fox family before The Mosquito Coast morphs into something more potent. That the tonal transition feels natural comes down to a cast who immediately convince, even as situations quickly escalate beyond a domestic setting.
In those first three episodes momentum is maintained; secrets are paramount and family friction feeds into the dynamic. Logan Polish as Dana, proves to be poutingly petulant, yet fiercely protective of family when it comes to the crunch. Alongside Gabriel Bateman as her brother Charlie, they show a united front against all comers.
That level of polished performance is matched across the board by everyone involved. From bit part players to marquee headliners, The Mosquito Coast possesses a genuinely impressive ensemble cast. In amongst the foot chases, road races and moments of quiet reflection, this show also has time for levity. Moments of bonding amongst the mayhem, add colour and nuance to a set up which could have so easily fallen flat.
By dialling down the pulpit preaching about purchasing power, this Apple adaptation soon evolves into a solid piece of entertainment. Justin Theroux convinces quickly imbuing Allie with intellect without ever detracting from his everyman qualities. A trick also pulled off by Melissa George, who remains steadfast in the face of dire circumstances as Margot.
Not only has Neil Cross written something which addresses contentious topics through conventional storytelling, but he has done so without watering it down. Educational and entertaining in equal measure, The Mosquito Coast rattles its sabre at contemporary issues, whilst delivering a supremely polished piece of mainstream entertainment.
The Mosquito Coast premieres on AppleTV+ on April 30th.