On film, exploration and journeys into the unknown can generate a series of emotions within you; sometimes they can entice and enthral you, they can leave you baffled and perplexed or you can end up feeling a mixture of both, and that is certainly the case with the fascinating yet deeply flawed entry from writer/director James Gray, The Lost City of Z. Based on David Grann’s novelized dramatization of the life of British explorer Percy Fawcett, the film chronicles Fawcett’s journey of finding an ancient lost city deep within the Amazon.
The film is certainly an odd case, while there is plenty to admire and appreciate on an artistic and filmmaking level, it all ends up feeling rather uneven in the execution of the narrative, as well as the motivations of certain characters within that narrative. On the plus side, there is something fascinating about a person, having a deep-rooted urge of searching for something worthwhile no matter the cost. Banded with his fortunate/unfortunate team, Fawcett embarked upon dangerous expeditions through uncharted terrain to find what they think is a real lost city, and that aspect is what’s the most enjoyable about the film and it provides a fascinating exploration both physically and mentally. Excellent cinematography by Darius Khondji and a foreboding musical score by Christopher Spelman also help this.
The downside is that the narrative can be somewhat uneven in terms of pacing and storytelling, and that might be enough to turn off some audience members. It’s very humourless, there isn’t much in this that’ll help you relax into the whole experience, and as a result, the end product could likely end up boring you to sleep. It’s lack of humour is also encapsulated by Charlie Hunnam’s uncharismatic performance, who doesn’t provide any emotional anchor for the audience to be drawn into his character and his motivations for wanting to explore the lost city. Because Hunnam is such a blank slate, you are left longing for Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller or Tom Holland to come back on screen since they give much more investing performances to keep you emotionally involved.
In the end, The Lost City of Z is something of a mixed bag; on the one hand, it’s a fascinating pshycological approach of exploration that harkens back to the years of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo or Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now with a solid supporting cast, yet is narratively uneven with its pacing and storytelling and being unfortunate in having an uncharismatic and un-engaging lead in the central role. It’ll probably work extremely well for certain audiences, but that can’t really be said for everyone though.
Director: James Gray
Scr: James Gray
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero
Prd: James Gray, Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Anthony Katagas, Dale Armin Johnson
DOP: Darius Khondji
Music: Christopher Spelman
Run time: 141 mins
The Lost City of Z is out on DVD and blu-ray 24th July.