Watched: 5 November
Warning: text below contains important plot details.
Given that there doesn’t appear to be much demand for slow-paced, old-fashioned adventure stories among the majority of mainstream cinemagoers in 2017, it’s hardly a surprise that this release only managed to claw back half of its $30m budget (though I suspect that audience indifference to lead Charlie Hunnam – who also starred in King Arthur, another recent and notable box office flop – also played a part in that). It’s a shame, because watching James Gray’s latest is a pleasant enough way to spend a couple of hours, and for all his struggles a leading man, Hunnam’s not exactly bad here… just a little beige.
The screenplay is based on David Grann’s book of the same name, which charts the life of late-19th/early-20th century geographer, soldier and explorer Percy Fawcett, a Devonian who disappeared in real life during an expedition in Brazil while trying to find the remains of a lost city (which he termed ‘Z’, though ‘El Dorado’ might have been more apt). The existence of El Dorado has inspired numerous TV shows and movies, with Aguirre, The Wrath Of God being the most notable of the latter, while the real-life Fawcett and his adventures have begotten numerous characters and stories across various media during the past 80 or 90 years; in fact Indiana Jones was apparently partly based on the explorer, though The Lost City Of Z seems a somewhat po-faced, plodding affair when compared with Indy’s capers (its stateliness has been much-praised elsewhere, though).
Unfortunately Hunnam isn’t able to provide any sparks and can’t quite ignite this film through sheer presence alone, though I think the various hatchet jobs on the actor – which mostly seem to imply that he has all the charisma of a sloth on Xanax – are a tad unfair. For one thing, Gray has clearly set out to make a serious, realistic film, and it’s entirely possible that the actor was given instructions to tone down his performance. That said, there are times here when you expect to see fear and wonder and fire in the eyes of Fawcett, but occasionally what you get is a man who looks like he’s thinking about wallpaper paste. Perhaps it would have been a better move to cast Robert Pattinson – who plays second fiddle to Hunnam as Corporal Henry Costin – in the main role.
There is some lovely photography throughout the film, not just within the jungle but also when the action shifts to the wood-panelled walls of the Royal Geographic Society in London, and on to France and the Battle of the Somme. The abrupt transitions between these locations – or episodes of Fawcett’s life – are jolting, if not wholly unexpected. So… a mixed bag. (**½)