This is not the type of film I expected Charlie Hunnam to appear in, yet alone star.
The Lost City of Z (2016) is a biographical drama based on true events directed by James Gray (We Own the Night, The Immigrant). It stars Charlie Hunnam as Col. Percy Fawcett, a man who becomes obsessed with finding a hidden city in the Amazon amongst the trials of the early 20th century.
Z toes the line between pulpy 20s adventure/drama and true-to-life biographical film, but never strays far from the novel the film is based on. An explorer and his descent into obsession is a story ripe for adaptation, and Gray has managed to turn the tale into a classic Hollywood ‘epic’ in the best and worst sense of the word. While its grand scope and decades-encompassing narrative intoxicates with a rich tone and classic sensibilities, it also feels long. Incredibly long. And at only 141 minutes that is a bit of an issue.
While the limited budget means Z has a scale that expands beyond its reach, Gray still does an excellent job creating a great sense of grandeur and tone. The cinematography from DP Darius Khondji is simple but incredibly effective in portraying both the dense undergrowth of the Amazon and cold and calculating conversations of English board-rooms. The tone of the film, while incredibly serious, also remains incredibly rich and endearing in a way that makes Z feel like a movie from a different age altogether in the best way possible.
However, Charlie Hunnam is not the man I would’ve chosen to head a film of this type. While he nails both the physicality and steadfast determination of Fawcett, his delivery and accent leaves much to be desired. Its a shame because despite his questionable roles and iffy acting there’s something about Hunnam that’s really likeable – its just that Z is not at all interested in using that to its advantage. His co-star however is a different story. Good ol’ Robert Pattinson, sparkling vampire himself, turns in an exceptional and almost unrecognisable performance as companion Henry Costin. It’s yet another step away from the actor’s twilight-tainted image, and its a big damn step, both committing fully to the role and being a complete and utter far cry from the pretty boy persona he’s been stuck with for years. Additional cast include Sienna Miller and Tom Holland as Fawcett’s wife and eldest respectively, but their screentime is too limited to make much of an impact beyond being good.
Now the biggest issue for me personally, and likely for most of the general audience, is the film’s pace. In the grand tradition of Hollywood epics, this film is a slowly-paced journey through a character’s growing fascinations and even though the film clocks in shorter than your usual superhero flick, it feels like a solid hour longer. Its unfortunate that the movie managers to overstay its welcome by so far and even though the final moments are well worth the journey, its not going to be enough of a prize for less involved viewers.
But even regardless of its dragging pace and hit/miss protagonist, there’s still plenty to enjoy amongst the journey to find The Lost City of Z. A grandiose approach by director James Gray with stellar cinematography and a great turn by co-star Robert Pattinson, this is a film several decades too late but no less welcome. And even though the journey may be long and arduous, Fawcett’s obsessive trips into the Amazon will be sure to delight far more than frustrate.
General Audiences: Meh
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Citizens: Highly Recommended