The Mosquito Coast
Allie Fox’s Heart of Darkness-esque descent into madness is an intriguing character arc, however it’s one that would have been better welcomed on the silver screen a while ago. Many years removed from the end of Breaking Bad, The Sopranos and Mad Men, it feels like we’re past the golden age of the anti-hero – the swath of great leading characters that author Brett Martin so beautifully wrote about in his behind-the-scenes reportage Difficult Men.
Developed for the streaming era by Neil Cross (Luther), Apple’s version of Paul Theroux’s novel – which was previously adapted by Peter Weir (Witness, Dead Poets Society) for a film with Harrison Ford as lead back in 1986 – stars the author’s nephew Justin Theroux as Allie in contemporary California, living off-grid in Stockton. The city is magnificently captured through a tracking drone shot that orients us in the family’s withdrawn lifestyle against the backdrop of America’s surveillance state. Not that a real-life Allie would approve of such technology – this embittered man is a technophobe, critical of capitalism and disgusted with American consumerism. This extends to his own kids Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) and Dina (Logan Polish), who he disciplines by destroying her secret mobile phone.
His paranoia is underpinned by a criminal history which catches up to him as the NSA tracks him down, prompting him to relocate his family to Mexico City. It’s not a smooth transition, however, as the first episode’s climax entails a hit-and-run in which Allie escapes from the government officials on his tail with the help of his daughter. It’s a good story with important points about today’s world, focusing on materialism, the romanticisation of off-grid living and the conspiratorial mindset that has pervaded modern society (the protagonist is the type to believe in QAnon). But when it traverses the same anti-hero territory as so many dramas of the 21st century, the narrative formalities emerge and it results in something that feels serviceable at best and stale at worst.
Though the storytelling may be familiar, it’s almost forgivable because the show is so handsomely crafted from top to bottom. Stylistic flourishes are in abundance, from an imaginative sequence of how an ice cube is formed to the dazzling location work (exemplified by the aforementioned drone shot). The tremendous cinematic appeal warrants viewers to power through all seven episodes, even if the writing doesn’t match the audio-visual finesse.
The Mosquito Coast is released on Apple TV+ on 30th April 2021.
Watch the trailer for The Mosquito Coast here: