The Lost City of Z
Directed by James Gray. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Edward Ashley, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid. (2017, PG-13, 141 min.)
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., April 21, 2017
The burden of dreams can drive a sane man mad, but in the meandering historical drama The Lost City of Z, the lofty vision of 20th century British cartographer and explorer Colonel Percival Fawcett simply feels like something inconveniently just out of reach. Lacking any true inspirational dimension, the film’s depiction of Fawcett’s lifelong search for proof of an ancient lost civilization hidden in the uncharted jungles of Bolivia seldom rises to anything above a historical footnote here. Based on white-hot New Yorker journalist David Grann’s 2009 bestselling nonfiction book, this endeavor also comes nowhere close to the crazy glint in the eye of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald in Werner Herzog’s feverish Fitzcarraldo, an unquestionably more compelling portrait of an obsessed Westerner seduced and abandoned by Amazonia’s mysteries. Even a loony hint of T.E. Lawrence might have helped the movie transcend its rather prosaic – and lengthy – “then this, then that happened” History Channel narrative. Like the Amazon, the movie feels as if it goes on forever. Metaphorically speaking, the oddly enervated The Lost City of Z is a journey without a destination, much like modern-day conquistador Fawcett’s futile quest for an extraordinary place that may ultimately only exist within the four corners of his mind. Its heart of darkness palpitates with the beat of the mundane rather than anything tragic, or even the truly sad, although its central character’s delusions occasionally elicit a sigh, if only out of pity.
Although Hunnam’s performance as the film’s frustrated visionary is adept enough, it decidedly lacks charisma. The actor plays his dramatic scenes straight from the diaphragm, with perfect enunciation. The script’s family angle (Fawcett’s wife’s and eldest son’s feelings of abandonment) broadens the characterizations a bit, but it contradictorily trades in cliches. More pointedly, there’s little sense of adventure or danger in this tale brimming with the possibility of excitement. Director/screenwriter Gray never quite figures out how to jump-start Fawcett’s pursuit of a place called Zed into an experience that feels like something more than merely flipping the pages of a book. Despite its best intentions, The Lost City of Z never finds itself, doomed to aimlessly wander to an unsatisfying conclusion of a dream that betrays the best of men.