Raiders of the Lost City
Had a ton of recommendations to check this one out for several months, but was never able to find the time to sit down and see it. However, with the end of the year upon us, and the fact that I’m taking stock for what counts as the best and worst of 2017, I decided to finally see what the hub bub was all about. And while I found plenty to appreciate and get why others loved The Lost City of Z so much, I must confess to feeling a bit cold about at it in the end. It’s not a bad film by any means, actually there’s quite a bit I like in it; but I had trouble connecting with the movie the way others have. Let’s explore what I mean after the synopsis.
So the film serves as a biopic of British explorer, Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who started out as a young officer seeking better status due to a disgrace placed upon his family due to the actions of his father. Nonetheless, the army provides him with an opportunity to operate as a surveyor for the Royal Geographical Society and help settle a dispute between Bolivia and Brazil in order to restore his family’s name. While in the Amazon, Fawcett teams up with fellow officer, Corporal Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), to complete the mission; but along the way, the pair end up discovering artifacts belonging to a long lost city rumored to be replete with gold. Despite placing a strain on his marriage to his wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), and his son, Jack (Tom Holland), Percy nevertheless becomes obsessed with finding this mythical lost city to increasingly dangerous degrees.
At it’s heart, the film is a traditional adventure film. Exploration, danger, seeking glory, all the good stuff. But the film also wants to be a traditional biopic as well in telling the story of Percy Fawcett as he tried to balance his home life, his desires, and his obligation to his country during the First World War. And to the film’s credit, the producers didn’t skimp out on a budget to deliver an authentic experience to portray all of the above. The production values on this film are really top notch work with era-appropriate costumes, sets, and even cinematography style. The movie wasn’t shot was HD digital cameras as is the industry standard, but traditional 35mm. A neat stylistic choice from the director, James Gray, to provide that grainy feeling of traditional adventure epics like Raiders of the Lost Ark and King Kong.
Further, Gray had the good mind to take his time with his actors and made sure they were able to sell their roles well. Hunnam, in particular, really excelled as a lead here (far more than he did in that King Arthur nonsense) displaying his natural charisma when he has to give stirring speeches and his vulnerability when conversing with his comrades or family in private. I especially liked his buddy act with Pattinson (who once again uglied himself up to look 10 years older than he is), as they marched along the rain forest and confided their thoughts with each other. Actually, Hunnam works well with any actor or actress you put in front of him, knowing when to pull back to let his co-star shine and when to really sell you on the emotional stake of a scene (but more on that avenue later).
Sienna Miller also turns in a subdued appreciated performance as Fawcett’s wife, and I genuinely wanted to see more of the couple’s interactions with each other as the family drama was probably one of the film’s strong suits. Especially when Tom Holland, Mr. Spider-Man himself, comes into the picture halfway through, the family dynamic takes center stage and instantly provides some much needed weight to the proceedings. And both Miller and Holland are damn fine thespians that can do multiple talents in comedy and drama, so their scenes with Hunnam feel the most genuine out of the film. Which is strange, as the film’s real focus is on exploring the Amazon for the Lost City of Z and…that wasn’t as intriguing to me as I had hoped.
The film takes on a more contemplative journey style, not unlike The Revenant or any odd Terrence Malick film. My mileage with these kinds of movies do vary, but I tend to prefer them when I become attached to the characters as they brave the elements. And while I liked Hunnam’s performance, I didn’t really connect with his all character all that well. Part of it was my disconnect with his motivation which does change as the film goes forward. At first, he’s in the Amazon to bring honor back to his family, but I felt the film rushed this motivation all too rapidly and didn’t do enough to reinforce this as a motivation.
Further, halfway through the movie, this desire gets sorted out by being replaced with the new motivation of Fawcett’s obsession with the Lost City of Z…and I didn’t get his motivation as to why he desired to find it so badly. Was it to affirm his beliefs that the natives aren’t as “savage” as the British aristocracy claims? Was it seek even higher status now that his family honor was restored? Or was it a desire to confront the unknown? The film alternates between these reasons as for Fawcett’s obsession, and it once again fails to reinforce the motivation, so I’m pretty much left along a journey with this guy where I know where we are going but I don’t know or care why.
It’s always a tricky idea to nail motivation down, made all the more disappointing because acting, dialogue, and production-wise, the film has all the earmarks for an easily recommendable film that could garner a few Academy Awards. But as with Free State of Jones or Hail, Caesar! last year, I see why The Lost City of Z was released during the time period it was released and why I’m not seeing a strong push during awards season for it. Because for all of its strong qualities, a few critical missteps hold it back from “best of the year” consideration. And that’s pretty much going to dictate my own rating, as I really did like quite a few elements of the film despite my own issues with the motivation. So with that, I’ll give this a high…