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The Lost City of Z

At CinemaCon in Las Vegas last month, I always looked forward to luncheons the studios provided. Many of the directors or stars come out to talk about their films.

At the lunch Amazon Studios (the folks that gave us one of my favorite movies of last year — Manchester by the Sea), they showed some clips from their upcoming movies. One of those was The Lost City of Z. The cast includes Robert Pattinson, who looks nothing like he did in the Twilight films. He has a beard and mustache, and is exploring the jungles (sometimes with a bottle in his hand). Terrific Italian actor Franco Niro (Django Unchained)  has an interesting part.

Sienna Miller looks as beautiful as always and rumours are, she’s now the real life love interest of one of the films producers — Brad Pitt. It’s a shame the movie doesn’t give her that much to do. They try a bit to make her a feminist, but that felt a little forced.

This true story is about British artillery officer, archaeologist and explorer Percy Fawcett. In the early 1900’s, he discovers an unknown civilization deep in the Amazon (no wonder Amazon Studios got involved). It does take liberties with the real story. And director James Gray (We Own the Night) went for a David Lean vibe. That’s a good choice, because I didn’t want to go in and see a Raiders of the Lost Ark type of adventure, but…I also didn’t want to be put to sleep. The Lost City of Z was almost 2 hours and 30 minutes. It should’ve been called The Lost City of Zzzzzz.

Fawcett is played by Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim). My daughter loved him in Sons of Anarchy. My wife loved him in…well, in person. He came out to talk about his movie at the CinemaCon luncheon, and what a storyteller he was. At one point, he talked about the difficulty of filming in Columbia. He once woke up with a weird sound in his ear. He squirt some water into his ear hoping it would go away. It didn’t, and he ended up at the hospital. It turns out, a beetle had burrowed into his ear.

Another one of his amazing stories involved a torrential downpour. He was trying to get the crew to continue filming, despite warnings that the river would be flooding and it was too dangerous. As he yelled about how this would be filmed in the spirit of something Fawcett would appreciate, lightning struck the ground about 10 feet from him. He was knocked off his feet, looked up and said, “Okay, we can go now…” before jumping into a van.

Major Percy Fawcett always felt he needed to do something to win back the honor of his family name. His dad was a drunk that gambled. So when he’s given the opportunity to go up the uncharted Amazon to do some mapping, he figures this is his chance.

What’s strange is how repetitive the movie was, and how it lacked drama. Sure, it’s gorgeously shot (cinematographer Darius Khondji, who’s worked on a handful of Woody Allen films, gets credit for that). I never cared or felt remotely involved in anything that was going on. I was surprised to find out afterwards that my wife liked it (maybe Robert Pattinson and Charlie Hunnam have that effect on women, I don’t know). Seriously though, what drove Fawcett? Every time he goes back, arrows are going by his head, people are dying for various reasons.

It should be a bit more interesting watching Fawcett try to charm the various hostile tribes he comes into contact with. It seems that his trips are actually easier than they should’ve been.

The dialogue is awful. There are lines like “The exit from Hell is always difficult!” There’s “The jungle is Hell.” Yeah, yeah, we get it.

The storytelling was surprisingly sloppy, too. It seems that since Gray was making a movie this long, he’d throw in some politics, romance, racism, and a lot of various clashes. It’s a lot of melodrama that became boring. Surely an interesting (and shorter) story could’ve been culled from these adventures.

There were also a lot of scenes in this movie that might have been more powerful on screen 40 years ago. One of those being Fawcett challenging his racist colleagues.

Perhaps part of my problem is I saw this right after Nicole Kidman bored me to tears as explorer/writer Gertrude Bell in Queen of the Desert. And just like that story, it’s much more interesting reading about Bell and Fawcett after doing some research. You should never watch long movies like this and instead wish you would’ve just seen a documentary on the subjects.

The storytelling was sloppy and repetitive. The hero worship and liberties it took with the story just don’t work. Overall, the film lacked passion.

There were a few scenes in the movie that made me wish the film was about those people instead. One being an opera company that is being run in the middle of the jungle. I have no clue what that was all about, but I was rather intrigued.

The terrific film score, and eerie drum beats, added nice atmosphere.

The cinematography and strong performances were enough to get this 2 stars out of 5. At least my wife liked it a lot. That means the 2 ½ hours weren’t a complete waste.