The Mosquito Coast (Weir, 1986)

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If anything, Peter Weir’s uneven but ambitious film The Mosquito Coast offers a glaring reminder of how good an actor Harrison Ford can be. No doubt that in the past decade Ford’s star has fallen to almost inconsequential status, a shame considering he was once a rare movie star who could lose himself in great character roles. As Allie Fox, a brilliant but misguided inventor who shuns mainstream American life and takes his family to live in the jungle, Ford brings a combination of manic charm and subtle unease to a character on the brink of self-destruction. Allie relishes in his own genius and can’t imagine why anyone else would listen to dissenting opinions, a tragic flaw that reveals the insecurities and manias brimming beneath his dashing good looks and eccentric charisma. It’s a complete performance ranging from distilled moments of reflection to brutal outburst aimed at those who love Allie the most; his dedicated family. The final scene resonates with a calm sense of dread and regret for both Allie and his oldest son played to perfection by a young River Phoenix, a moment drenched in sadness toward what could have been. The film itself becomes consumed by Ford’s performance and offers little else in terms of dynamic narrative threads, however this one man show contains enough scene chewing for multiple films and offers a surprising counterbalance to Ford’s other great performance of the 1980’s in Witness, not surprisingly another Peter Weir film.

Fearless (Weir, 1993)

Rarely has there a film so devoted to the subject of pain; or, more specifically in the case of Peter Weir’s Fearless, how people process traumatic experiences in varying ways. Max Klein, Weir’s complicated and torn hero, survives a devastating plane crash resulting in a dramatic shift in his personality and view towards death. Weir’s stunning opening shot shows Max emerging from a smoke infested cornfield, holding a baby and followed by a number of injured passengers, a sort of Jesus in disguise. But Max’s trauma, at first hidden by his overconfidence at cheating death, begins to crumble when he meets other survivors, the most important being Rosie Perez’s Carla, who lost her baby in the crash. The two find momentary solice with each other, forming the film’s narrative core and most unsettling moments. Max and Carla share a tragic experience, and Weir lets the camera travel with them to the edge of sanity. The audience is a distant observer to their shared trauma, and it’s the film’s most obscure attribute; the ability to alienate the viewer because it’s best for the story. I found this problematic but ultimately rewarding, because by the end of the film you realize Max and Carla were meant to journey through these personal phases of healing, only to be understood by themselves. We feel like Max’s wife played by Isabella Rossellini, outside the realm of her husband’s understanding, and less of a participant with this sometimes frustrating character study. Weir ends the film with Max’s second brush with death, and it appears this will give him a more grounded view on life, somewhere in between his extremes of fear and invincibility. While an uneasy journey on the whole, Fearless represents why Weir is a genuine master, willing to take typical Hollywood formula’s and turn them on their heads.