Review by Derrick Carter
Running Time: 2 hours 21 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Violence, Disturbing Images, brief Strong Language and some Nudity
Directed by: James Gray
Written by: James Gray
(based on the book THE LOST CITY OF Z by David Grann)
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Edward Ashley, Ian McDiarmid & Franco Nero
Percy Fawcett was a British explorer whose life was so interesting that David Grann wrote a non-fiction book about him. That book, titled THE LOST CITY OF Z, sold many copies and garnered lots of critical praise. Brad Pitt’s production company Plan B bought the rights to a film adaptation and seven years later, here we are with THE LOST CITY OF Z. I was quite looking forward to this film. I’ve read about Fawcett’s life and was intrigued to see how a big screen version of it might play out. While LOST CITY OF Z has moments of greatness, a couple of problems significantly weigh this film down.
Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is looking to redeem his disgraced family name by completing the treacherous task of mapping Amazonian jungles. On his first venture into the dangerous territory, Percy hears rumblings about an ancient undiscovered city from his native guide. Fascinated by the prospect of discovering this lost city, Percy ventures back on another adventure. Percy’s obsession over finding this lost city (which he calls Zed) soon hits a boiling point that threatens to tear his family apart and possibly lead to a very unfortunate fate.
LOST CITY OF Z was filmed in South America and its gorgeous locations bring an air of authenticity to the entire project. The sense of possible death lurking all over the jungle feels threatening. We see all sorts of dangers present in: hungry piranhas, scary snakes, flesh-eating diseases, and natives who enjoy shooting arrows at any white person who may be coming down their river. This film’s adventure scenes are appropriately adventurous and made even more so because they come from reality. One long sequence that sees Percy and his two companions meeting a friendly tribe of cannibals is absolutely fascinating to watch.
The performances range from good to great. Charlie Hunnam, who’s been wooden in the past, is great as Percy Fawcett. He plays a proper British gentleman who has adventure in his heart and seems to always be perpetually excited. Hunnam also gives an appropriate amount of weakness to the man’s softer side and his faults. The latter mainly come in scenes that show his neglectful attitude towards his family. Sienna Miller plays Fawcett’s wife and delivers a powerful performance as a woman who has to cope with her always-absent husband. Hunnam, Miller and Tom Holland (as their grown-up son) have believable chemistry as a family unit, which convincingly sells the quiet dramatic scenes.
Robert Pattinson delivers one of the best performances of his career (which isn’t exactly high praise) as Fawcett’s rough-around-the-edges, witty companion Henry Costin. Edward Ashley gets in some good lines as another adventurer Arthur Manley. A big stand-out is Angus Macfadyen as explorer James Murray. I won’t dive too much into this character for fear of spoiling some unexpected plot turns, but I will say that I wanted to punch Macfadyen’s Murray in the face multiple times.
The cinematography that brings this film to life is grand and lush, making the jungle scenes even more exciting and beautiful to look at. There also seems to be a deliberately duller color scheme and lighting to Fawcett’s home scenes and London interactions. This visual contrast was an interesting way of showing how bored he was in these locations and how he’d much rather be exploring the jungle. However, the film falters quite a bit in its pacing and a handful of dull spots. This film is over two hours long and feels like it.
THE LOST CITY OF Z attempts to cover not only Fawcett’s quest to find the titular ancient city, but also tries to be a biopic of his entire life. This means we get a lengthy chunk of the film devoted to his service in World War I. There’s a battle scene that feels like it’s been ripped out of an entirely different movie and some conversations in a bunker are flat-out boring to watch. The same can be said of an overly long prologue that seems entirely useless in the story’s grand scheme. Some might say that it was there for character development, but we already get plenty of character development after that prologue and before Fawcett’s first jungle journey.
THE LOST CITY OF Z has moments of greatness, mainly the scenes in the jungle and solid performances from everyone. However, the bloated running time and messy pacing really drag this movie down quite a bit. I’m glad that I watched this film for those great bits of filmmaking and acting. However, the narrative is drawn out to the point of being dull and that kills any possible enthusiasm for a second viewing. This is a one-and-done history lesson of a film.