The Lost City of Z is a Beautiful Slow Burner
The Lost City of Z
Review by Daniel Rester
Writer-director James Gray’s The Lost City of Z — based on David Grann’s 2009 non-fiction book — is an adventure epic in the vein of director David Lean’s work. It takes the story of a fascinating, complex real-life man and showcases his adventure in a land at first unknown to him — but later a place he obsesses over. Lean perfected such strokes with his masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia (1962). While Gray’s film doesn’t quite reach the heights of the best of Lean, it’s admirable to see him attempt such a feat.
The Lost City of Z tells the story of British geographer and artillery officer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). The film begins in the early 1900s, where Fawcett is tasked with travelling to the Amazon for a mapping expedition; he is joined by aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and a few others as they try and locate the source of a river. While there, Fawcett hears of rumors — and believes he finds evidence — of a lost, advanced civilization.
Fawcett eventually becomes obsessed with locating the “lost city,” which he calls Zed. He returns to the Amazon multiple times, including adventuring with Costin again, explorer James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), and even his own son, Jack (Tom Holland). The treks begin to take a toll on himself and his wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), who struggles with holding the family together while Fawcett is away.
In case you don’t know of Fawcett’s true-life journey, I won’t spoil any of the details of his story or its outcome. I went into The Lost City of Z only knowing the basics, which made the reveals in the plot more interesting. However, I believe both those familiar and not familiar with the story will be able to get something out of the film.
Gray’s picture has an authentic look and feel from beginning to end, never feeling distractingly Hollywood-ized in its depiction of the period or places. From the costumes to the character rhetoric to the dazzling locations (the film hops to places like the Amazon, Ireland, and France), Gray and his team have put a great amount of effort into capturing the details of this story. It’s refreshing to see a big, decades-spanning story like this played out in tangible locations rather than on obvious sets or in CGI-filled situations. All of this — and Darius Khondji’s beautiful cinematography — make The Lost City of Z feel old-fashioned and realistic.
Also worthy of compliment are the two main performances from Hunnam and Pattinson. Hunnam has come across as a bit of a beefy pretty boy in some others works, but here he makes Fawcett a subtly complicated man. Pattinson also proves once again that he is a fine character actor, unfortunately still caught in the Twilight (2008) shadow for some audience members. Just as with films like The Rover (2014) and Maps to the Stars (2014), Pattinson proves to be an interesting watch again in The Lost City of Z.
While The Lost City of Z is a well-made film, it is also an uneven and occasionally slow one. The film starts out strong as the exciting first adventure begins, but as the story begins to bounce back and forth between England and the Amazon — and span years — it starts to plod. There are multiple scenes throughout, both grand and intimate, that impress. But other scenes — mostly the family and political stuff in England — feel more like filler at times. There is a great film somewhere in The Lost City of Z, but the up-and-down middle portion of the film and the rushed third act (with an underdeveloped relationship between Fawcett and his son), keep it from being so. It also never quite has the overall sweep the beginning of the film — and an eye-opening WWI scene — seems to promise.
Despite its pacing issues and an occasional lack of character development, The Lost City of Z is still an adventure worth taking. Gray skillfully presents a gripping story of a man determined to meet his unlikely goals. The film may not reach the level of an old Lean epic, but it still succeeds more than it fails.
My Grade: B+ (on an F to A+ scale).
My Viewing Scale: Skip It, Wait for Cable or Netflix Streaming, Wait for Blu-ray or VOD Rental, Worth Matinee Movie Ticket, Worth Full-Price Movie Ticket
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity).