“The Lost City of Z” is itself lost as it misses the mark in telling the story, in cinematography, and in editing. Read the book and skip this lengthy mess. Why the director and writer decided to make this passionate adventure story a family affair, I don’t know. By balancing the gender roles between wife and husband, the script does a disservice to the “woman left behind” true 19th century story. Modern sensibilities and inordinate goodbyes seem disingenuous and, in truth, rather boring in this misguided period piece.
I found the acting even a tad wooden. While Robert Pattinson is a fine adventure companion, Charlie Hunnam seems uncomfortable as Percy Fawcett, the British soldier who becomes obsessed with finding a lost South American civilization. Sienna Miller’s portrayal seems less than long-suffering. She abandons herself to her husband’s enterprise and at the film’s end seemingly walks out of her parlor door into the greenery of the jungle. Somehow the script has strayed from David Grann’s wonderful book on Percy’s exploits.
The politics with The Royal Geographic Society and the ambition of Fawcett are broached in his want of advancement. The snide remarks of the gentry toward our adventurer are stated directly. His ” unfortunate choice of ancestors” leaves him the underdog who is not invited to royally dine. Doors are closed to him even when he “makes the kill”. If he wants promotions, he will be transferred around the Empire. Soldierly decorations will make it possible to reclaim his dissolute father’s reputation, we are told. His yesteryear strivings show epic sacrifice that seems more silly than heroic.
Kipling poetry sends the small band of seekers machete chopping through ridges of uncharted green. 1906 Bolivia with its mosquitoes and “primitives” has been done better before. While some of the screen images are hazy and romantic, most are dark and claustrophobic.
The English disinterest in any civilization older than its own and the proposition that savages may be equals is rather cliche. “Finding the glory” becomes a more personal quest in this film and it takes away from the romance of adventure and knowledge for knowledge’s sake. Grann’s book was of a grander scale.
The gender politics distract, also. Sure lines like ” I don’t need a tent mate in need of constant care” , and ” You have given no thought to my aspirations” make us wish we were back in the jungle, the best sequence being when an arrow is stopped by a raised journal to the face. One interesting bit of knowledge was shown when a milky substance was sprinkled in the river to stun the fish. The natives only kill what they need we are told.
Angus Macfadyen plays James Murray, who is portrayed as a disgrace. He eats the food of others and is fearful of swimming. The dishonorable Murray is sent on his own with a horse. The horse comes from nowhere! The details be damned. Other mix-ups abound. Especially irritating was the erratic ages of Fawcett’s children. If he was in the jungle for three years, that daughter should have been walking. Rank still rankles Fawcett, and he states “rank does not guarantee mettle” with aplomb.
Victorian flourishes like palm readers, idyllic outings with children, and 1917 WWI are all covered in epic scope. Fawcett’s rousing speech and his near blindness from chlorine gas propel us forward. Now, a colonel, Fawcett finds his destiny back in the Amazon with his son. We get ” a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what is heaven for”. Both Fawcetts disappear in the Amazon in 1925. Skip the James Gray movie, and read the David Grann book.