The Lost City of Z – Film Review

An exploration adventure flick is what I was hoping for, and I got something a lot different. I am aiming to explain why I still enjoyed the film despite some fatal flaws.

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This is the true-life story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a solider and explorer in the early 20th century, tasked with charting parts of South America.  Alongside companion Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), he soon discovers the traces of an Ancient city.  From this we get a tale of an abandoned family back home and a real desire to embark upon something special.

In the film it’s pronounced ‘zed’, though it might as well have not been pronounced at all, because the picture definitely exceeds its grasp.  Telling a true to life tale can always be tentative, but perhaps director James Gray was too careful when approaching this.  The story itself is an interesting one.  It’s a story about great exploration and conflict, one of a broken family and loss.  Yet despite this, it never really comes together like that.  What ends up happening is that we get a competent drama that involves some of those things.  The narrative has this awkward pace that leaves gaps in these stories, and they never connect to one another.  Just as we settle into one scenario we are onto the next in quick succession.  On some level this works, because I wasn’t bored during the film, but the emptiness left me disappointed.

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Unfortunately the film is plagued by an awful Charlie Hunnam performance in the lead and it pretty much scars the entire film as he’s in almost every scene.  He is extremely blank in this role and often just feels present as an actor, rather than the character.  I don’t want to assassinate the guy but in this film he has the charisma of a paper bag.  He spews line after line with such wooden and dull delivery.  The material isn’t great and a lot of the dialogue is incongruous, which doesn’t leave him much to work with.  However the writing can’t be blamed for his ability to literally take all the energy out of a scene.  This film could have easily been boosted to a higher standard with a different actor in the role, and that’s such a shame.

There are some positives to the movie (quite a lot of them actually).  First of, the supporting cast is excellent.  I found myself wanting more Robert Pattinson, because he appeared to have an actual character and moulded into the role far more Hunnam did.  There is a quietness to him, which allow there to be a mystery with his character and this in turn makes him incredibly watchable.  Sienna Miller is the heart of the film as the left behind spouse of Percy, and thankfully takes control of some of the scenes she shares with Hunnam.  She is a complex character; torn between wanting her own adventure and letting her husband have his.  Miller balances it well and I was relieved when ever it cut back to her in England.  The other parts where the film shines is during its moments of action.  Now not all of it is executed perfectly, due to the weird gaps I was talking about, however for the most part these scenes are tense enough.  The conflicts with the native tribes are shot nicely and this adds some much needed excitement into the film.  And overall the film is shot well.  I enjoyed the colour palette of the rich greens and it works effectively as a period piece.  It becomes more vibrant aesthetically, and also narratively in its final third; I think thanks to a solid Tom Holland role as Percy’s son. His character joins up late to the film and is able to give the film a sense of purpose finally.

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To conclude this film is not bad at all, and I definitely settled into it as it went on.  It’s tarnished by a flat central performance and the directors constant habit eradicating intriguing story arcs. My hopes of a colourful adventure were distinguished early on, and the thing that replaced that didn’t make it up to my imaginations high standards.  It’s a watchable movie and is dense enough to be worth your ticket price; I just hope James Gray has more control of his material, and hires a better actor for his protagonist in his next project.

 

Side-note:  I missed the first five minutes of the film as I was hopping from screen to screen trying to find the right one.

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