Review: The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z
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The Lost City Of Z movie review Charlie Hunnam Robert Pattinson

PLOT: A dramatization of real-life explorer Percy Fawcett's 20-year effort to find a lost civilization deep in the jungles of the Amazon during the early part of the 20th Century.

REVIEW:"The jungle is hell, but one kind of likes it."

That above quote is given by a character in James Gray's THE LOST CITY OF Z and it may do the best job of summing up the mindset of its main character and the movie itself. THE LOST CITY OF Z is a movie both mesmerizing and frustrating. It shows us beautiful sights and teases us with existential questions. It focuses on an enigmatic character who can be interpreted in several different ways. It's also overlong, quite slowly paced, and frequently melodramatic in the wrong spots. This might be the kind of movie that takes more than one viewing to fully get comfortable with, because while I sat in the theater intrigued by what was unfolding before me, I left with the uncomfortable feeling that the experience had just left me cold. Perhaps it is unavoidable that this is the impression THE LOST CITY OF Z initially leaves, since its protagonist is as fascinating as he is perplexing.

The man's name is Percy Fawcett, and he's played by Charlie Hunnam, who is up to the task of tackling this stubbornly determined man. We first meet around 1906, as a despondent member of the British military who is looking for some action and/or advancement. He's about to get it, just not in the way he could have imagined. Sent to join the Royal Geographical Society, Percy is dispatched to South America to survey and map the land in an effort to squash an impending war between Bolivia and Brazil. Joined by a surly assistant Costin (Robert Pattinson), Percy is immediately entranced by the jungle, despite its hostile natives, killer diseases, blood-thirsty piranhas, and all the rest. Stumbling upon pottery that would seem to suggest an ancient civilization once lived deep in the jungle, Percy finds that his calling may not be military action at all, but exploration.

The Lost City Of Z movie review Charlie Hunnam Robert Pattinson

Returning home to London, Percy is met with great skepticism regarding his find. His wife (Sienna Miller) is as supportive as any wife can be, especially considering Percy intends to leave her behind again for some years to continue seeking his fabled Lost City of Z (or "zed"). Bankrolled by a haughty fellow explorer (Angus MacFadyen) who isn't quite as prepared as he thinks he might be, Percy - once again with Costin by his side - goes back to South America and, well, pretty much does it all over again.

The movie's structure is somewhat problematic because of its repetitive nature. Indeed, this may have been how things shook out for Percy, but as cinema it's a tad laborious to go to jungle, come back to Britain, head back to the jungle, etc. There are plenty of times THE LOST CITY OF Z feels like a mini-series that has been truncated to 2 hours and 20 minutes - and I can't help but think a mini-series might have been the way to go. That said, anyone looking for exciting adventure in the bowels of the jungle should look elsewhere, since much of Percy's journey is spent walking, talking, and scrounging about. A brief run-in with some spear-hurling "savages" and one member of the expedition being turned into piranha-food are the lone chapters of action. (There's also a quick visit to the front lines during World War I during one of the movie's many jump-cuts in time.) Telling an inclusive story that spans over 20 years in a little over two hours is a challenge, and Gray never exactly gets a grip on transitioning smoothly from one passage to the next. THE LOST CITY OF Z is frequently an unwieldy creation, though you can't claim Gray isn't trying his damndest to bring balance to the thing.

Your opinion of the film will mostly rest on the shoulders of Fawcett, a man for whom the secrets of the jungle, and the lost civilization, were more important than his own family. He's a flawed protagonist, to be sure, and somewhat hard to get a grip on. I found that I never fully understood his obsession, though the movie gives him one sequence in which to theorize that the people he seeks were at least as advanced as any Western civilization. I just never fully bought some of the his motivations, though it must be said that Hunnam is quite well-cast. Most of the actor's big-screen work in the past has been rather bland, though perhaps through no fault of his own. He just hadn't had the chance to tackle a juicy role, and Percy is a complicated, sometimes impenetrable figure. It's the kind of role Alec Guinness would have killed in the 50s, and while Hunnam is no Alec Guinness, he acquits himself well. (There are, unfortunately, a few bits of overblown dialogue given Percy that Hunnam cannot save.)

The supporting cast is uniformly solid, with Pattinson doing great work as the bearded, slovenly Costin, Percy's trusted companion. Anyone still doubting that Pattinson can indeed be a fine actor should look no further than here. Miller is also very good as the caring wife back home; thankfully, an effort is made to make Nina more complex than a standard "supportive wife" character, and Miller gives an engrossing performance. Tom Holland (yes, Peter Parker) has a small but memorable role as Percy's grown-up son, who eventually decides to join his father on one last mission into the jungle. MacFadyen is superb as a troublesome figure in Percy's life, the callous side of Western expansion personified.

Not unlike the bulk of Percy's expeditions, THE LOST OF Z is both successful and not. It attempts a more traditional style of storytelling, and so naturally it takes its time telling its story, with mixed results. It's beautiful to behold, there's no doubt about that (a Best Cinematography Oscar for Darius Khondji should not be out of the question), it's well-acted, it has the best of intentions. That it is an uneven final product, frequently mystifying and unreachable, is perhaps the price we have to pay for such an ambitious feature.

Source: JoBlo.com



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