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FILM REVIEW: In THE LOST CITY OF Z an Exciting Adventure Gets Lost In the Jungle

FILM REVIEW: In THE LOST CITY OF Z an Exciting Adventure Gets Lost In the Jungle

Starring as British explorer Percy Fawcett in the upcoming film The Lost City of Z, star Charlie Hunnam (an undoubtedly talented actor we saw, for example, in Pacific Rim) at some point conveys that perseverance is the mother of triumph, and sticks steadfastly to his resolved to find his own version of El Dorado. The same cannot quite be said, unfortunately, for the movie itself, which, though charming and interesting at time, seems at sea (or in the jungle, as the case may be) trying to find its proper footing and tone under the weight of an epic story.

When we first encounter Fawcett he is a dashing and ambitious military man whose career is going nowhere, fast, despite his obvious talents and unbounded determination. He is flanked by the true star of the film, Sienna Miller, who portrays his long-suffering wife Nina. Eventually, he is joined in a decent performance by Tom Holland, soon to reprise his role as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Homecoming. Before we get there, however, Fawcett accepts a colonization mission of sorts to the Amazon, where Britain has been asked to mediate a dispute between Bolivia and Brazil regarding their international boundaries.

It sounds complicated but you need not worry yourself with politics, at least not those of the geopolitical kind (for now). The movie quickly turns into a slow-burn melodrama that has Fawcett and his crew digging deeper and deeper into the jungle in search of the mouth of a river, where they soon encounter what Fawcett becomes convinced are signs of an ancient civilization. Ridiculed and disbelieved back home, Fawcett returns a number of times to the area, most of them with his trusty companion, a Sancho/Watson type of sorts played with more erudite resolution by Robert Pattinson.

The production values, too, are as bloated as the cast, and I don’t mean in the bad sense. Cinematographer Darius Khondji (whose lit such classics as some Alien films and Se7en), provides the most important, mystical and smoke-filled touch to the mysterious while inviting ecosystems of the rainforest. A thunderous soundtrack adds itself to a number of special and sound effects (most notable when Fawcett is unwittingly sent to fight in The Great War), to result in what is obviously a careful and thoughtful movie.

But this type of biopic has been brought to the screen before, to varying degrees of success, and there is only so much pomp and circumstance that turn of the century sets and gowns can buy you. The Lost City of Z is not the disaster that, say, In the Heart of the Sea is (though you’d be forgiven for getting the confused). But it is also not The Revenant or any other of the films that threads new ground in exploring the now-familiar territories of the New World.

The doting but saddened wife that is left behind, for example, is particularly clichéd, despite Miller’s amazing performance with difficult source material. So too are the doubters left behind, which appear in all these tales, including fantastic ones like Alice in Wonderland. The best parts of The Lost City of Z are the scenes in which Fawcett encounters what his cohorts term the “savages” of the Amazon—both in his own interactions but also his own inventions of what their cultures must be like. There is no doubt that Fawcett and indeed, Hunnam himself, have deep respect for these unknown cultures. Hunnam’s performance teems with touching authenticity that cannot be denied.

The Lost City of Z is a decent enough movie. The effort of the people involved in the project oozes through the screen and you cannot help but deeply admire the commitment and resolve that the central figure displays. The problem of course, as it was for him, is that determination is not enough. Reality also plays a part, and the tone and editing of the movie get constantly in its way.

It is hard to know, as it is with many of these exploratory epics, if the story is a romance or an adventure, a cultural study or a history lesson (the extended saunter into the trenches is particularly peculiar). The elements of rejection by his family also occupy some space. Overall, it’s a story of a man’s life and of his journey, but choppy cutting and a lack of explanatory threads or transitional seeds leave the entire exercise disjointed, holding on to dear life like a raft put together by semi-strong rope.

Nonetheless, the interaction of Miller’s heartfelt performance, of the deep-felt willpower of Fawcett as projected through Hunnam’s piercing eyes, and of the overall touching if not quite enthralling tale of adventure, make this a good if not great movie to explore, I suppose like Fawcett himself.

The Lost City of Z makes its way into theaters on April 14, 2017.

Grade: B-

About The Author

J. Don Birnam

J. Don Birnam, a voting member of the New York Film Critics Online, has been a movie lover since he saw the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film in theaters at a tender age, and has been a devoted student of American film history every since. His favorite films range from Back to the Future to West Side Story, depending on the time of day, and has a mildly unhealthy obsessions with the Academy Awards. Any similarity with the slightly unstable writer in the seminal 1944 film 'The Lost Weekend' is pure coincidence

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