Based on the classic novel by Paul Theroux, MOSQUITO COAST (2021, streaming on Apple TV) is a new series starring Theroux’s nephew, Justin Theroux, one of my favorite actors after he shredded THE LEFTOVERS and did great work in films like MUTE. It’s technically excellent, and its take on the novel offers a similarly powerful critique of capitalism, but in my view it’s missing something the novel had, which is a mythic story big enough to carry its big ideas.
The novel (and excellent 1986 adaptation starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren) shows us a critique of modern life through the eyes of firebrand Ally Fox, a thin-skinned genius inventor who refuses to take part in modern society and longs to go somewhere far beyond its reach with his family. He’s a bit of a megalomaniac, but the thing is, his rants are pretty much on the money, the way you read or watch FIGHT CLUB and find yourself nodding at pretty much everything that comes out of Tyler Durden’s mouth. While the answer in FIGHT CLUB is nihilism, which should be rejected, the answer in MOSQUITO COAST is a purist utopianism, which is also shown to be a flop. The Apple TV series takes a different approach that is good but ultimately fell short for me. I’ll explain.
In this version, the Foxes are wanted by the FBI and find themselves on the run, which is pretty much the entire thing. Along the way, we are shown the failings of capitalism through things like illegal immigrants, homeless occupying an abandoned shopping mall, and so on. This is all awesome, and it’s very well done in the way the fantastic 2006 CHILDREN OF MEN exposed the madness and self-destructive tendencies inherent in our species. But where CHILDREN OF MEN truly shined and made its point is in a powerful, intimate story using all this as a backdrop: a failed idealist who wanted to change the world only to give in to apathy finds new hope and purpose in protecting the only woman in the world capable of having children. In contrast, THE MOSQUITO COAST gives us … the Foxes are bad parents wanted for some crime that isn’t explained, and they’re on the run, which takes them into one dangerous situation after another.
The cinematography is great, the acting is superb (Justin Theroux is fantastic as always), and some of the characters, even the secondary characters, are superbly drawn. There are some clumsy directing choices–sluggish pacing at times and things like showing us a jug of water in the back of a truck in the desert several times, practically screaming at us that oh yea, this jug is gonna get bullet holes in it, and our heroes will be very thirsty–which is annoyingly ham-fisted, but no deal breaker. The same with some deus ex machina rescues and laughably poor choices by characters. I could live with it. Overall, there’s a lot to like in this take on THE MOSQUITO COAST when you view it as a whole. I just felt watching it like I was in rinse, recycle, repeat mode waiting for the real story to reveal itself. The show had a point to make but ultimately didn’t know what it was.
Which is a bummer, as I was real hopeful for this one. If you have Apple TV, I would encourage you to check it out for yourself, as you might connect with it. Me, I wanted to connect but just couldn’t get into the story.