By Richard Winters
My Rating: 7 out of 10
4-Word Review: Moving to the jungle.
Allie Fox (Harrison Ford) is a disgruntled, eccentric, and angry inventor who feels that the United States has lost its soul. When his new ice making invention is not met with the enthusiasm that he expects he decides to move to the jungles of Central America and start a whole new society of his own in his own vision while taking his wife and four kids with him.
Filmed mostly in the country of Belize Director Peter Weir does a terrific job of capturing the flavor of the region. The plot progresses in a slow linear fashion making the viewer feel that they are traveling along and experiencing the same things right along with the characters. I found myself more entranced with the unique sounds of the exotic birds and insects of the region than the visuals. There are definite shades of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo and Sam Peckinpah’s Ballad of Cable Hogue were we watch a man verging on sheer madness build a town from nothing while injecting his control and passion on all those around him.
Watching Allie’s vision and town come to life is fascinating and satisfying, which makes up most of the film’s first hour. However, the second hour deals with his eventual self-destruction and watching the whole place go up literally in flames and due mainly to his self-absorbed arrogant nature is rather depression and agonizing to go through. Having the man turn into an out-of-control tyrant that alienates those around him even his own family is telegraphed from the very beginning. Instead of being an insightful character study it is instead more like a draining experience that makes the viewer feel as exhausted and run over as Allie’s beleaguered family.
Helen Mirren’s character as the mother is poorly defined and becomes rather frustrating in the process. She seems like an intelligent woman with sufficient self-esteem, so it became baffling to me why she would go along with this nut of a husband and follow him loyally on all of his bizarre tangents. She does finally have an emotional breakdown of sorts near the end, but I felt that should have occurred way earlier like before they even left on their crazy journey. By remaining so passive and compliant to Allie and towing her four young children along with it made me almost believe that she was crazier than he was. Some may argue that she was ‘madly in-love’ with the man and therefore overlooked his many personality flaws, but it seemed to be taking that concept too much to the extreme.
River Phoenix and Jadrien Steele are excellent as Allie’s two sons. Both have amazingly expressive faces and the viewer finds themselves sharing most of their empathy with them. Watching them start out as idolizing their father and then learning to hate him only to grieve for him at the end is touching. My only complaint is the voice-over narration by Phoenix, which to me came off as unnecessary and heavy-handed.
Ford took a risky career move by playing a character that is not too likable, but I applaud his decision. A true actor takes roles that demand going out of the safety zone and for the most part he succeeds. I liked how he brings a certain level of humor to the otherwise abrasive character particularly when he goes on long and uncontrolled rants to the natives while they are helping to build his town and many respond with lost looks on their faces while he talks to them. My favorite part is when he lectures a young boy about America’s inflation while being drowned out by the noise of a chainsaw that he is using. . I realize the scar on his chin is from a car accident that he had in the 60’s, but there were so many close-ups of his face and you see it so vividly that I felt there should have been some explanation for it written into the script, which has been done in some of his other films.
Andre Greagory is fun as the missionary who comes to odds with the opinionated Allie. He supplies just the right balance of menace and humor to the role. The televised sermon that he gives while using props is funny. It is fun to see Butterfly McQueen in her last movie role as well as spotting a young Jason Alexander as a hardware store clerk. Martha Plimpton has a nice sarcastic way about her as River’s potential girlfriend and it is good to see a teen love interest that has more of a plain look and not some model taken straight off the cover of Seventeen Magazine.
The idea of showing how modern day suburbia has destroyed the rugged individualist, but how trying to rough it in the wilderness could pretty much end in the same way is a good one. However, the movie tends to be too downbeat and unbalanced. It is based on the Paul Theroux novel, which I suspect is probably better.
My Rating: 7 out of 10
Released: November 26, 1986
Runtime: 1Hour 57Minutes
Director: Peter Weir
Studio: Warner Brothers
Available: VHS, DVD, Amazon Instant Video