The Lost City of Z, review: ‘An unexpected triumph’

PUBLISHED: 08:00 21 March 2017

Robert Pattinson in The Lost City of Z.  Picture: AIDAN MONAGHAN

Robert Pattinson in The Lost City of Z. Picture: AIDAN MONAGHAN

2016 LCOZ HOLDINGS, LLC

Despite sounding like the next Tarzan spin-off, this based-on-a-true-story tale is a striking success, starring Robert Patinson and Charlie Hunnam

The Lost City of Z is a film I had half a mind to give a miss. The notion of sending the precious, delicate flower of our thespian youth off on an expedition to the Amazonian jungle seemed an enterprise fraught with potential disaster.

Him out of Twilight (Robert Pattinson), the new boy Spider-man (Tom Holland) and, even the Son of Anarchy (Charlie Hunnam) who turned down Fifty Shades, just didn’t seem robust enough for the task ahead, doomed to perish in some vainglorious calamity, like fresh faced, well groomed Captain Scotts.

This expedition though is an unexpected triumph. It manages to do something that the movies almost never do: it tells a based-on-a-true story as though it might actually be true. It is important for potential viewers to realise that despite the pulpy title which looks as though it should be prefaced by “Tarzan And,” this is not a tale of foolhardy derring-do gone wrong but a biopic of the explorer Percy Fawcett; a career soldier who, while mapping the border between Bolivia and Brazil, discovers an obsession that will cause him to be apart from his wife (Sienna Miller) and family for many years.

We have become accustomed to these stories of chaotic Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski led descents into madness. This is a tale of a destructive obsession, but a calm, measured destructive obsession. It’s terribly British like that.

The film hero worships Fawcett but the careful, balanced way it presents his pursuit reveals much more about what drove the sense of duty and sacrifice in the British officer class that built the empire, than a stiff upper lip caricature could. The film is like a Ripping Yarns script, played straight and very poignantly.

The American director James Gray also wrote the script and has done so with some bravery. Confronted with a narrative that sprawls over two decades (1905 to the mid 1920s), it is episodic, has few major defining events or neat narrative arcs, and the motivation of the characters is often tough for a modern audience to grasp. But it doesn’t flinch or scamper away to the haven of artistic license.

Instead, it faces them all down head on and tries to deal with its subject honourably and faithfully. And overall it succeeds, creating a film that is the mirror of its subject: bold, striking, spiritual and full of integrity.

Halfmanhalfcritic.com for a review of Life.

Rating: 4/5 stars

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