Sunday, 9 April 2017

Review: The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z
Cert: 15 / 141 mins / Dir. James Gray / Trailer

Imagine, if you will, a version of Temple of Doom where Indy has massive trust issues, is unable to assemble a reliable team, goes to India three times to find the Sankara Stones, and then doesn't come back and isn't heard from again but he's definitely still the hero. I've just saved you 141 minutes, you can thank me later.

In essence, the story of Lt Col Percy Fawcett's early 20th century search for a lost city in the South American jungle, the 'itch he couldn't scratch', should be inherently cinematic. Unfortunately, screenwriter and director James Gray can't decide between Downton Abbey, Indiana Jones and Blackadder Goes Forth. You can imagine the resulting imbalance.

The characters explore; the story rambles.

Trying desperately to add dramatic ballast by shoehorning as much of the surrounding politics as it can, the film is an unfocused muddle full of characters who are at best tolerable (and often not even that). Bravely leading a charge of poor casting decisions is our central character represented by Charlie Humdrum, wandering from scene-to-scene like an understudy to a different part, added to the final cast-list by an admin error. The film is woefully miscast*1 with the possible exception of Robert Pattinson, and even he's in no position to save the rest of it.

Taking place over twenty-or-so years, some of the recurring characters are aged almost comedically, some not at all and Charlie's children are re-cast every twenty minuted like this was a feature-length episode of Neighbours. Until, that is, until Charlie's eldest son is finally played in Act II by Spider-Man, after which is he subsequently aged by means of a stick-on moustache and a hat. I wish I was joking about that. The film handles the passage of time with the same artlessness it applies to the introduction (and disposal) of secondary characters. If you ain't in Charile's immediate circle of contacts, you're a face at the back of the raft, mate.

And all the while, I failed to be convinced by Fawcett's inspiration, motivation and commitment to his life-threatening endeavour. Maybe the real-life adventurer was a character-vacuum too, I guess we'll never know*2.

Exploring regions untouched by western civilisation isn't for everyone of course, and our Charlie has suspiciously liberal views, as is often the way with contemporary screenplays of turbulent historical times which feel like they were script-edited by Julian Fellowes. But before you get too attached to him, let's not forget that Act III sees our plucky protagonist kowtowing to the geographical society he'd previously told to Fuck Right Off™ in order to get their money after all, then taking his brainwashed eldest son and going off into the jungle forever, leaving his wife and two younger children behind.

With heroes like this…

So, watch this if you enjoyed?
Historical costume-dramas where you don't actually like anybody.
Not 'adventure/explorer' films where you want to

Should you watch this in a cinema, though?
I can't imagine it making much difference to be honest, although the set-dressing's admittedly nice .

Does the film achieve what it sets out to do?
Not a clue, mate.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?

Will I think less of you if we disagree about how good/bad this film is?

Yes, but is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yes, but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Palpatine himself's in this. Indeed, the performance in his lengthiest scene appears to be based almost entirely on the Mon Cal Opera.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…
It gets a three because as much as the film might have furrowed my brow, I didn't dislike it as much as the next entry on my review-list…

*1 I don't care what she says, Sienna Miller is 'just the wife', here. That is very much the point of her character's representation in the screenplay. It's not a good thing by any means, but that's what it is, both historically and narratively. [ BACK ]

*2 Or we could just go from his final few scenes in the movie of this True Story™ which, of course, nobody would have been there to successfully document as his final expedition never returned to civilisation, instead merely returning his compass to his wife in England as a cryptic 'sign' of his success (and that the lost city had a functioning Post Office, one presumes). [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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