Tag Archives: Paul Theroux

The Mosquito Coast (1986)

In many ways our Director Series on Peter Weir can be seen as an excuse to write about The Mosquito Coast, which is the logical culmination of the “early stage” of the director’s career and gateway to those brilliant films that would follow (though calling that Weir’s “later stage” makes it sound like his directing career is a slowly advancing disease). Coast would follow Gallipoli and The Year of Living Dangerously – two well-received Australian films that helped launch Mel Gibson into superstardom – and Witness, which would prove to be Weir’s first American film. The greatness of Dead Poets Society would follow. It’s The Mosquito Coast, though, that’s arguably the most ambitious of any of these films.

And that’s fitting, because although Gibson’s Guy Hamilton and Harrison Ford’s John Book and Robin Williams’s John Keating could conceivably all be described as “ambitious” in one way or another, it’s Ford’s Allie Fox that allows his ambition to get the better of him. Fed up with just about every aspect of America, inventor Fox uproots everything and takes his family deep into the South American jungle. They make a new home – “home” a term used liberally here – on the Mosquito Coast, where Allie’s latest creation provides something magical for the local population: ice. Helen Mirren and River Phoenix appear as Allie’s wife and eldest son, who essentially allow themselves to be dragged into the jungle by this iceman simply because they love him.

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Half Moon Street (1986)

Half Moon Street is one of those movies that just doesn’t have a whole lot to say, despite the tendency to delve into “timely” issues throughout the first act. Sorta-kinda based on the Paul Theroux novel Doctor Slaughter, the film stars Sigourney Weaver as an American expatriate with a bright future. Soon, Weaver’s Lauren Slaughter becomes involved with a high-price escort service and a British diplomat played by Michael Caine.

Let’s get this out of the way and state that Half Moon Street is pretty boring. Wikipedia marks the film an “erotic thriller”; it is neither. In fact, the most thrilling parts end up losing all of their magic during the absurdly expository finale, which presents itself as a twist ending but doesn’t begin to pack the punch that it hopes to. The “eroticism”, I suppose, is relative to the viewer, and I certainly understand if some people find a big-haired mid-80s Weaver lecturing airily on Anglo-Arab foreign policy a total turn-on.

Back to the “thriller” part: the opening of the film shows an unidentified figure leafing through videotapes of Londoners, a short scene which is called upon later when Lauren receives a videotape in her mail. We are consistently shown the inside of Lauren’s apartment and shown outings with her male callers from a distance, and very often the camera pans lazily off into an empty part of the room. Increasingly, though, these shots become more and more foreboding. A shot from behind a bush on a golf course not only gives the clear impression that someone is watching Lauren, but that we are in the shoes of the voyeur. We again see the unidentified figure recording Lauren, taping her conversations with Caine’s character, and the longer this goes on without an answer the more interesting it gets.

But again, the ending pretty much blows it. It’s political espionage, of course, and they’re just trying to kill Caine’s character and his reputation (and they make a specific point of stating that they’ll kill both, which seems unnecessary…if you kill the man’s reputation, do you really need to actually kill the man?). The mysterious portions of Half Moon Street are better off left that way, because once they’re solved the entire thing is an utter letdown.

Unless you’re in for a few interesting cameos (Vincent Lindon!) or the impossible sexiness of Weaver’s baggy trench coat and Caine’s baggy mustache, Half Moon Street is one you can skip.