The Lost City of Z, written and directed by James Gray, fails to achieve or offer anything compelling enough to warrant its 2 hour and 20 minute runtime. With a lead character who is void of the necessary time or exploration to ever make you invested in him, and a story that struggles to hold your attention from worryingly early on in the film makes the film a tough one to get on board with. The lack of anything to properly connect to or care about, made The Lost City of Z a real struggle to get through. But let’s break down specifically where this film goes wrong in more detail – on with the review.
The film tells the true story of Colonel Percival Fawcett – played by Charlie Hunnam – who became obsessed with finding a lost city that was somewhere deep in the Amazon. We see the struggle it has on his home life and also the hurdles he came up against in his career; as others sought to diminish his work and findings. But everything plays into Fawcett’s need to find what he is more than confident is there: The Lost City of Z.
What I perhaps struggled most with in the film was the main character himself, and also the portrayal of him. For me, there was a noticeable lack of explorative development of the character. So much of him remained a mystery to me; never did I get a good grasp of just who this man was, and what were all the intricacies that motivated him. There were more broad examples; his want for recognition within the establishment that he had committed his life too. But it never seemed to go deeper than that. I never felt the reasons he was on the dangerous mission to map South America or find the lost city was ever truly personal. I really struggled to figure out why I should care and also why he cared so much. It’s almost as if the film assumed I’d care because a part of him did – well I didn’t.
It’s annoying because Colonel Percival Fawcett does exhibit traits which suggest he is a truly fascinating individual, and I’m sure if I do some more in-depth research on him, I’ll find the kind of wild stories that you’d expect from a man like him. But in The Lost City of Z he comes across as quite a bore; lacking in anything that grabs your attention; something that makes you sit up in your seat and think, ‘Okay, now we have ourselves a compelling character.’
What I think is one of the main contributors to that issue, is the performance by Charlie Hunnam. There is a total lack of charisma; there is nothing that he brings to the table that ever even comes close to being enticing. I found nearly all of his delivery of lines to be flat and very one note. His overall presence on-screen felt non-existent – you’d expect a man like Col. Fawcett to stand out among his men, bring an atmosphere of leadership and confidence. But in this he just feels like anyone else on-screen; simply existing with everyone else and at no point standing out.
It’s a double-edged sword where you have a main character that is developed within a poorly structured script – thus his development is sloppy and difficult to get a grasp of – and then you have a performance for that character that leaves him disappearing into the background at times; feeling less like this courageous explorer and more like a bland everyman.
But it isn’t just the main character that is a mess; it is the overall handling of the story itself. The film spans such a vast period of time (close to 20 years) and because of that it means that it has a lot to cover. What it results in is a complete glossing over of all the finer details. We instead get the cliff notes; we see the basics of what happened before we are then hurried along to the next part of the expansive story; meaning we have no time to get a proper sense as to where they are within their journey, or the evolving relationships between the men who are on the treacherous exploration.
Take the long partnership between Col. Percival Fawcett and Henry Costin – played by Robert Pattison. These two men spend years together exploring areas of the world that no other white man has possibly ever seen, and surviving all sorts of dangers. Now as you can imagine, that probably creates a bond that is unlike the majority of friendships. Well, unfortunately that’s not something we ever get to experience or understand. Because of how the structure and the pacing of the story is handled, and also the total lack of ability for characters to flourish within the constantly moving story; the friendship that undoubtedly formed between these two men is as lost and mysterious as the city that they are searching for. What it leaves you feeling, is completely disconnected from everything and everyone.
Perhaps the only narrative element of the film that interested me and kept me somewhat engaged, was the dynamic between Col. Fawcett and his family. It is a relationship that is tested to its maximum and every time the family is able to broach the subject of feeling abandoned by their father, or just simply hating him for never being there, are some of the most real moments that, The Lost City of Z has to offer. Both Col. Fawcett’s relationship with his wife, Nina – played by Sienna Miller – and her want to be a part of his journey to South America, and also the relationship between Col. Fawcett and his oldest son, Jack – played by Tom Holland – where he feels completely abandoned and full of hate for the man who was never there – these were the little glimpses of humanity and real emotion that I felt was clearly the strongest element of the entire film. It’s just a shame there wasn’t more of it.
The last point of the film I wish to touch upon is the visual decisions; of which some are really good, while one in particular is unfortunately really bad. So I have to praise the film for the obvious time that was spent shooting on location. Having much of it shot in the harsh, uncomfortable looking jungle, certainly helped sell just how tough of a task it was for Col. Fawcett and his men. I feel doing it any other way i.e. in a sound stage, would have just diminished the overall effect that the jungle itself had. There is also a point near the end of the film where Col. Fawcett is sent off to fight in World War 1 – at the Somme to be more specific. And the level of detail and time that was clearly put into making it look as convincing as possible, showed. I was amazed at the detail and the expansiveness of the entire set in which they shot that on, and it was certainly a standout moment in a film that had been pretty mundane up until that point.
But here’s where the big problem comes in: after shooting the film, they clearly in the edit chose to go with a particular colour palette for the whole of the film, and that colour palette was a murky bleak looking yellow and brown. Now as you can imagine, that’s not too pleasant to look at, nor does it make your film look particularly good. I found it to be a baffling choice; one that was just not very nice to look at and made nearly every scene a chore to slog through.
So I think it’s pretty obvious that I didn’t enjoy my time with The Lost City of Z. I went in interested in what I might get and what I might learn, but it quickly became a film that just frustrated me and subsequently bored me. There’s not much else to say at this point, other than if you should go see this film or not.
Surprise! I will not be recommending The Lost City of Z. A film that goes on for far too long, and in all that time isn’t able to achieve anything engaging, stimulating or memorable. Pass this one by and point your film watching focus somewhere else.
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