Dour but com­mit­ted, The Lost City of Z some­times feels like a jour­ney in real time

Montreal Gazette - - MOVIES - CHRIS KNIGHT

The Lost City of Z, from Amer­i­can di­rec­tor James Gray, has many lessons for his coun­try­men. It can teach them the value of per­se­ver­ance, the ne­ces­sity of re­spect for indige­nous cul­tures, and the proper way to pro­nounce the last let­ter of the al­pha­bet.

The story fol­lows the real-life ex­ploits of Percy Fawcett, a Bri­tish sol­dier from the turn of the last cen­tury who spent a good part of his life look­ing for “Zed,” his own code name for a lost city in the Ama­zon rain­for­est.

His ad­ven­tures were writ­ten up in 2005, by David Grann as a New Yorker ar­ti­cle, later ex­panded to a book about which critic Michiko Kaku­tani wrote in the New York Times: “It reads with all the pace and ex­cite­ment of a movie thriller.” Hence the movie.

Un­fa­mil­iar with the book, I at first thought the ti­tle sounded like an al­to­gether more light­hearted jun­gle ca­per, per­haps star­ring Ni­co­las Cage and Jay Baruchel. Gray, per­haps aware of this sort of mis­ap­pre­hen­sion, has crafted a very dour ex­cur­sion, head­lined by a mostly un­smil­ing Char­lie Hun­nam as Fawcett, with Robert Pat­tin­son as his heav­ily bearded aide-de-camp.

The movie opens with a stag hunt, of all things, af­ter which we learn that Fawcett is mo­ti­vated to go ex­plor­ing as a way of bet­ter­ing his name, hav­ing been, as one char­ac­ter notes, “rather un­for­tu­nate in his choice of an­ces­tors.” Ah, Bri­tish cir­cum­lo­cu­tion! I al­most wish I hated this film, so I could write: “The di­rec­tor seems to have ac­ci­den­tally

ex­posed his film dur­ing an early dress re­hearsal, then in­ad­ver­tently re­leased the images thus pro­duced. Oh, and that’s a bad miss!”

But The Lost City of Z isn’t bad. It is a touch too earnest, and longer than nec­es­sary, with scenes of Fawcett be­ing ridiculed at a meet­ing of the Royal Geo­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety, and later gassed in a Great War trench, that a less well-funded di­rec­tor might have con­veyed with a sin­gle line of dia­logue. This is what you get from “Brad Pitt presents ...”

But Fawcett and his mates are so won­der­fully, staunchly Vic­to­rian in their ad­ven­tures up the Ama­zon. At one point, caught in a fusil­lade of thrown spears, they call out “Sav­ages!” and pile out of their boat, like sub­ur­ban kids who yell “car!” and move their net dur­ing a game of street hockey.

Even­tu­ally the film it­self gets its stiff up­per lip on, with sub­ti­tles like “July 1906, Un­charted Eastern Bo­livia.”

It wouldn’t do to re­veal the var­i­ous twists in the plot — pre­sum­ably, rel­a­tively few movie­go­ers know the details of Fawcett’s life — ex­cept to say that fel­low ad­ven­turer James Mur­ray (An­gus Macfadyen) joined his sec­ond ex­pe­di­tion and proved less than wor­thy, while Pat­tin­son’s char­ac­ter never wa­vered.

Nor did Fawcett. “The world will know what we have found!” he shouts at one point, even though all he has is ru­mour, gut feel­ings and some shards of an­cient pot­tery.

His wife (Si­enna Miller), a thor­oughly lib­er­ated woman wait­ing for his­tory to catch up with her, seems to have been re­mark­ably pa­tient with his globe-trot­ting.

You may be less so as Fawcett dives time and again into the Ama­zon basin (he made eight ex­pe­di­tions be­tween 1906 and 1925), and the movie am­bles past the two-hour mark. Or you may find your­self gripped with the same fever of tan­ta­liz­ing dis­cov­ery — around this bend in the river! No? Then THIS one ... — that drove Fawcett ever for­ward. It is not a per­fect movie, but it is a con­sis­tently com­mit­ted one.


Char­lie Hun­nam, left, and Tom Hol­land star in The Lost City of Z.

James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is a touch too earnest and a lit­tle too long.

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