Review: The Lost City of Z (2016)

Charlie Hunnam plays a broody practically-Western hero in James Gray’s directorial comeback after three years. Billed as a “biographical adventure drama”, The Lost City of Z takes its time making the twists and turns necessary in a biopic like this. Thanks to its strong cast, its languid script is able to fully lift off the ground.

Despite its deliberate slowness, The Lost City of Z doesn’t feel especially boring. It’s basically an insistence to savour Darius Khondji’s exquisite cinematography, which is on its own a rich canvas for this exceptional cast to inhabit. However, script-wise, the film is not without faults. It feels like a rather clinical film, and rather than encourage the audience towards empathising with its protagonist, it’s quite easy to feel apathetic towards Percy Fawcett’s cause. His struggles are not written to mean very much – or at least they come across as thin and underdeveloped to me. He hits many requisite beats of the struggling white traveller, burdened by his desire to attain glory while feeling trapped by the confines of societal norms. Nothing much is ever at stake here.

The character is mostly saved by Charlie Hunnam’s layered performance; without it, the film would have been much less remarkable. Hunnam is instantly likeable as the explorer, but he can also be commanding, menacing and cold. There is a sense of restlessness about his portrayal of Fawcett that fills in the blanks of the character as he’s scripted.

Moreover, the film’s supporting cast does as good a job as he does, particularly Robert Pattinson as Henry Costin – who brings some much-needed humour into the mix to cut the unhurried story – and Tom Holland as Jack (Fawcett’s oldest son). Holland doesn’t get a lot of screentime, but he steals each scene he’s in. I really wish he and Hunnam had more time to develop an onscreen relationship – think Holland and Ewan McGregor in The Impossible (2012) – because that would have made the entire film much more fulfilling. The narrative often re-situates each chapter of Fawcett’s life with how it has affected his family – specifically Jack – but more than an absence of a father in his son’s life is the lack of substantial feeling throughout.

I still rate this film pretty highly on my scale, but it is did fall short of my expectations. In fact, it might not even be missing any components, but they simply did not come across strongly enough. I’ve found that during the process of writing this review, I am actually able to rationalise what I’ve deemed ‘unfeeling’. It could all have been done in favour of a more detached narrative format (Fawcett is a purposely disconnected character trying to find peace, and the film reflects that while displaying the beauty of ‘a wider world’). Nevertheless, such a lack of engagement simply makes the film a little more forgettable, considering how many biopics are churned out every year – especially those featuring white men with similar struggles.

★★★½

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