Three stars. Rated PG-13, violence, disturbing images, nudity and brief profanity
By Derrick Bang • Originally published in The Davis Enterprise, 4.21.17
Toward the end of this ambitious historical drama, a key character observes that a man’s reach should exceed his grasp.
|As Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam, front) guides their boat ever deeper into uncharted|
Amazonian waters, his companions — from left, Manley (Edward Ashley), Murray
(Angus Macfadyen) and Costin (Robert Pattinson) — warily watch for unfriendly tribesmen.
Sadly, that’s precisely the case with director/scripter James Gray’s disappointing The Lost City of Z. He’s simply unable to wrap his arms around the enormity of this saga.
The film’s subject, Lt. Col. Percival Harrison Fawcett, certainly deserves to be brought to the attention of modern audiences. The early 20th century British geographer, artillery officer and explorer, most famous for his eight mapping and archaeological expeditions to Brazil’s Amazon region, was fictionalized by no less than Arthur Conan Doyle, in a series of Professor Challenger novels and short stories published between 1912 and ’29.
Much more recently, Fawcett is rumored to have inspired a certain Indiana Jones.
By all accounts, Fawcett took his work more seriously than these pop-culture counterparts, but that’s no excuse for Gray to deliver such a grim, dreary and bloodless depiction of the man’s exploratory career. Charlie Hunnam’s portrayal of Fawcett is withdrawn and stoic; even the man’s moments of triumph feel muted, as if Hunnam can’t figure out how to depict genuine excitement.
His Fawcett simply isn’t very interesting.
This can’t be Hunnam’s fault; he has demonstrated plenty of charisma and thespic talent in projects that range from his lead role in 2002’s Nicholas Nickleby, to his popular Jax Teller in TV’s Sons of Anarchy. The blame for Hunnam’s subdued performance here belongs fully to Gray, who obviously wished Fawcett to be presented in what often seems a trance-like state.
Actually, much of the film feels like a fever dream, thanks in great part to Darius Khondji’s shimmering cinematography and Christopher Spelman’s understated, almost hypnotic orchestral score. Both contribute to the film’s atmosphere of surreal obsession: a Joseph Conrad/Heart of Darkness tone that was captured far better by Francis Ford Coppola (Apocalypse Now) and Werner Herzog (Fitzcarraldo).
Despite Gray’s passive depiction of Fawcett, at least we learn something about the man, and what drives him ... although it could be argued that our knowledge mostly springs from what we observe during his interactions with his progressive wife, Nina, played with spunk and effervescence by Sienna Miller. She gives the film some desperately needed emotional vigor.