American Fable is ambitious, maybe too much so sometimes, but there's an intense pleasure in the boldness of the film's style.
Some kinds of bores you will tolerate, and other kinds you will not. "The Mosquito Coast" has the misfortune to be about the second kind of bore - about a man who is zealous in the pursuit of his obsessions long, long after they have ceased to interest anyone else.
The man's name is Allie Fox, and he is convinced that American civilization is coming apart at the seams. Acting on his fears, Fox packs up his wife and children and moves them into the rain forests of Central America, where he plans to establish a new civilization. This man is not without intelligence. He has invented, for example, a new kind of machine for making ice, and nobody can say he is not handy with his hands. But he shares the common fault of many utopians: He wants to create a society in which men will be free - but free only in the way he thinks they should be free.
Fox is played in "The Mosquito Coast" by Harrison Ford, and it is one of the ironies of the movie that he does very good work. Ford gives us a character who has tunnel vision, who is uncaring toward his family or anyone else, who is totally lacking in a sense of humor, who is egocentric to the point of madness. It is a brilliant performance - so effective, indeed, that we can hardly stand to spend two hours in the company of this consummate jerk.
There have been other madmen in other movies who tried to find their vision in these same rain forests. I think immediately of "Aguirre, the Wrath of God," and "Fitzcarraldo," two movies by Werner Herzog about crazed eccentrics who pressed on into the jungle, driven by their obsessions. Those movies were so much more watchable than "The Mosquito Coast" because they created characters (both played by Klaus Kinski) who were mad with a flamboyant, burning intensity. Allie Fox's madness is more of a drone, an unending complaint against the way things are. It is painful to watch him not because he is mad, but because he is boring - one of those nuts who will talk all night long without even checking to see if you're listening.