The Mosquito Coast
- Brian Donaldson
- 30 April 2021
Adapted drama about an on-the-run family with episodes that are gorgeous to look at but difficult to swallow
'What did you do?' For most of The Mosquito Coast's seven episodes, this question is continually asked of lead character, Allie Fox. By keeping the audience in the dark for as long as possible, this device perhaps invites us to build up a rapport and empathy for Allie and his family's permanently on-the-run plight before hitting us with a sucker punch of reality. But ultimately, it winds up as a running joke for the viewer and another example of this drama's uncanny ability to test the patience by teasing us with memorable moments, stunning images and fascinating characters before blowing it all, especially with a final three-episode sprint which borders on ridiculous and teeters towards boredom.
Allie (Justin Theroux, nephew of Paul who wrote the original novel in 1981) and wife Margot (Melissa George) are living a semi-contented life in Stockton, California, she an English professor and librarian, he a talented inventor who just can't quite secure that patent which might solve all their woes. Their teen kids, Charlie (Gabriel Bateman) and Dina (Logan Polish) are dragged unwillingly into a one-bag each flee to Mexico from an unspecified justice, with the government, cops, drug cartels, and a gang of street-kids all after them at one point. The lack of hi-tech in their lives (Dina has a battered old flip phone to keep in touch with the outside world while Margot sneaks off to call her parents from a pay phone) tells us how seriously off-the-grid the Fox family is; this disconnect from modern civilisation is mirrored by the viewer's lack of information about what is actually happening underneath it all.
While the 1986 movie (starring Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren) stayed largely faithful to the source novel, this version plays fast and loose with all but the most fundamental details, instead channelling a Breaking Bad/Ozark vibe to ramp up the tension and manipulate the watcher's stress levels. There's little at fault with any of the key performances, with both Polish and Bateman clearly ones to follow in the future, while Ian Hart and Paterson Joseph both deliver decent turns in the otherwise shark-jumping dash to the finish. But the overall sense is of a drama that fails to trust its audience to stick with a central character who might have done bad things. It's as though Tony Soprano, Don Draper, and Dexter Morgan had never happened.
All episodes available now on Apple TV+.