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The Lost City of Z - DVD Review

The Lost City of Z

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 3 out of 5

JAMES Gray’s The Lost City of Z offers up the fascinating true story of Colonel Percival Fawcett’s obsessive quest to find a mythical place in the deepest, darkest depths of Amazonia during the early to mid-1900s. But while consistently fascinating, it’s curiously restrained both in terms of performance and pacing.

By adopting an old fashioned approach to the storytelling, Gray allows room for strong character building and emotional complexity. Yet this also negates the film’s capacity to thrill, with only a handful of sequences capable of sending the pulse racing (in terms of excitement or fear) when you kind of feel there should be more.

Rather, his film examines the psychology of an adventurer as much as the derring-do, yet also fails to deliver a lead character enigmatic enough to make the journey as engrossing as it could have been.

Charlie Hunnam’s Col Fawcett is a reserved man rather than a risk-taking adventurer in the Indiana Jones mould. He’s aware of the consequence of failure, as much because of the stain it will leave on an already soiled family legacy, but also on the family he has sacrificed in order to pursue personal honour and obsession.

Hence, he’s very much restrained, both emotionally and physically. Hunnam adopts a posh monotone that can sometimes render his dialogue difficult to hear. And it suffocates his ability to create a true flesh and blood character. Whether this was in keeping with the man himself, or an artistic choice, is a moot point given the way it strips such a pivotal character of much charisma.

Robert Pattinson, as one of his fellow explorers, and Tom Holland, as his son who eventually grows old enough to join him on one adventure, fare much better – injecting enough emotion, whether in the way of comic sarcasm or frustrated passion, to enable both of their characters to resonate more fully.

Hunnam’s performance aside, Gray also struggles with the film’s pacing. His exploration scenes, while beautifully shot by Darius Khondji, lack any real urgency despite the impending threat posed both by hostile, possibly ‘murderous savages’ and the jungle wildlife (which extends to snakes and piranhas).

By adopting a more brooding, psychological approach, Gray seems to be nodding more to the filmmaking style of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now or Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraldo than anything anywhere near approaching the adrenaline-rush of a Spielberg or Abrams. At well over two hours, this can make the journey seem quite ponderous at times.

But that’s not to dismiss entirely the film’s beauty or its ability to make you think about the cost – both emotional and physical – of pursuing a dream. Gray’s film serves as much as a cautionary tale about the dangers of obsession as it does a stark reminder of man’s capacity for destruction and tyranny in the pursuit of wealth or progress.

The Lost City of Z is therefore a film that fascinates more than it grips. It keeps you watching even though it leaves you emotionally detached. As such, it has the feel of an honourable failure rather than the old school classic it might have been.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 140mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: July ??, 2017