Director James Gray steps it up a level in terms of production values with The Lost City of Z but the result is only slightly more interesting than the rest of his consistently dull canon of work. This real life story is inarguably cinematic, but Gray fails to mine it to full dramatic effect.
As a young major in the British army at the beginning of the 20th Century, Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) remained undecorated and shunned by society despite his many skills. The explanation, via the observation of one character is due to his “unfortunate choice of ancestors”. This is in reference to Percy’s father, who had sullied the family name.
Returning a sense of respectability to the Fawcett name goes some way to motivating Percy in accepting an offer from the Royal Geographical Society to travel to South America and survey the sketchy (and disputed) border between Bolivia and Brazil.
Together with Amazon rainforest expert Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and a small crew, the perilous journey begins. Although there are deadly tribes of natives lurking in the forests, Fawcett becomes enchanted by the local artwork he discovers, and forms a harmonious relationship with some of the indigenous people.
Trouble comes in the form of a bloated English botanist, James Murray (an excellent Angus Macfadyen) who joins Percy on his second expedition and steers it off the rails, first unintentionally, and then intentionally.
There’s more trouble at home, where Fawcett’s enlightened views are rebuffed by a society that views the indigenous people of the Amazon as barbarians. This is a view that becomes even more hollow as we witness Britain become involved in World War I, which Fawcett enlists in.
Director Gray enjoys an unhurried pace, as evidenced by his previous film, The Immigrant. At 2 hours and 20 minutes, The Lost City of Z is similarly lugubrious and tends to overstay its welcome.
Hunnam doesn’t entirely win us over as the prinicpled Fawcett. It may not be his fault that the recent King Arthur was such a turkey, but despite his leading man looks, he has yet to convince us that he can carry a film. Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s long suffering wife is once again in a man’s environment, doing what she can, but given very little. From American Sniper to Foxcatcher and going all the way back to Layer Cake, she always seems to play inconsequential roles in male dominated films.
Shot partly in Colombia by ace veteran d.p. Darius Khondji, the film is indeed very sumptuous to look at. Visuals aside, the film as a whole is quite leaden, coming alive sporadically, most noticeably during the stretch involving the colourfully despicable Murray.
The Lost City of Z is currently in limited release
Richard Leathem @dickiegee