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The Lost City of Z - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
The Lost City of Z
Directing: B
Acting: A-
Writing: B-
Cinematography: A-
Editing: B

I'm all for people continuing to make movies of this sort. Whether it's a classic or dated style depends, I suppose on your point of view. It also makes a difference if the story falls a tad short of being sufficiently compelling.

Is that the problem with The Lost City of Z? I found it compelling enough, actually. It didn't bore me. That's not exactly high praise: it also fell far short of exciting me. Writer-director James Gray's adaptation of David Grann's book of the same name, detailing early-20th-century explorer Percy Fawcett's obsession with finding an ancient civilization in the jungles of the Amazon, over-focuses on what he sacrificed in terms of his family back home in England. That's a crucial element to this story, to be certain, but it's a story we've heard a million times.

Maybe half of this movie was literally filmed in the jungle, and there is not enough of it. The many perils of the many journeys Fawcett took are largely gleaned over, likely for the sake of time. This film runs two hours and 20 minutes as it is. Much as I advocate for more roles for women, the part of pining wife (here played very well, even making her a progressive woman well ahead of her time, by Sienna Miller) is not what this story needs. That part of Fawcett's struggles could have just as effectively been conveyed through little more than the many letters he and his wife sent each other on his many voyages.

It's clear that many liberties are taken with this ostensibly true story. This much is known to history: Percy Fawcett ultimately disappeared after he went on his final search for this ancient city while he was in middle age, along with his eldest son, Jack. This movie makes many suppositions about their fate, while still presenting whether they lived for many years in the Amazon as a mystery. It is generally assumed they died out there, perhaps by local native tribes.

There are many native characters in this story, and it would have benefited from more of them, and especially as something more than historical props. The script frequently touches on provocative ideas that it frustratingly refuses to explore in depth, such as Fawcett's evident conviction that the discovery of an ancient civilization "possibly older than our own" might actual open people's minds. (Haha, that's funny!) On one of Fawcett's journeys, he finds native tribes which have mastered precise cultivation in the middle of the jungle.

I would prefer to see this story from the native people's point of view -- something last year's excellent Colombian film Embrace of the Serpent comes far closer to doing. The thing is, for what it is, The Lost City of Z is quite impressively produced -- to the point that its wide critical acclaim is unsurprising. The performances across the board are top-notch, even from some who don't have a reputation as the greatest actors: Robert Pattinson is literally unrecognizable as Fawcett's journey companion, Henry Costin. Charlie Hunnam gives an incredible, if understated, performance as Percy Fawcett himself. It's just the perspective that few people seem to recognize as being ill-advised.

That's not to say Percy Fawcett's story is not one worth telling -- quite the opposite, in fact. But his story is one of a meeting of different worlds, one that even now has great potential for detailed discovery. And yet, this movie spends half its time steeped in Fawcett's world, which is so familiar to us that we have little comparative reason to care. And this leaves too little time to flesh out his very real experiences in the Amazon. The frustrated wife, the children growing up resentful of an absent father, the scoffing and disbelieving associates who won't take Fawcett's word for it -- these are all presented with editing and performances that do indeed move the story forward effectively. They are also all things we have seen enough of.

The Lost City of Z is rife with potential: it could have been something great. Instead it is merely good. And even when it's not bad, that kind of missed opportunity renders it a disappointment.

Charlie Hunnam searches in vain for THE LOST CITY OF Z.

Overall: B
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