The Lost City of Z

In Congo, Tim Curry was a man on a mission to find a lost city in the jungle. That movie had Ernie Hudson and Laura Linney and a gorilla who could talk to humans using sign language and a sign-to-speech machine. That movie is fun, and the lost city plotline is at least loosely based on a true story. That story is the focus of The Lost City of Z, which suffers from a distinct lack of Tim Curry, Ernie Hudson, Laura Linney and a gorilla who could talk to humans using sign language and a sign-to-speech machine.

In the new film, Charlie Hunnam plays Percy Fawcett, a British soldier who feels like he’s got to redeem his family name from his father’s failures. He keeps getting transferred from job to job, and one day he receives word that he’s been assigned to help map a Bolivian river and find its origin. No white man has ever returned from such a trip, but Fawcett, along with his compatriots Henry Costin and Arthur Manley (Robert Pattinson and Edward Ashley), succeeds where others have failed and finds himself a national hero. On that trip, Fawcett encountered evidence to suggest that the natives weren’t the primitive savages that the snobby Brits think they are, and he’s obsessed with returning and finding their hidden civilization. Much to the dismay of his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and the children they keep conceiving during each of his trips home.

The movie has a runtime of 141 minutes, which is simultaneously too long and too short. It’s too long in that you’re very ready for it to be over well before the end comes, but it’s too short in that they can’t seem to fit in all the important details. It’s really a matter of awful pacing since they have lots of time to linger on the less-interesting scenes, while they gloss over what has the potential to be some of the most interesting content in the film. For example, on their first expedition, one scene shows the explorers at death’s door with many weeks left on their trip, while the next shows them at the river’s origin, and the next shows them arriving home amid great celebration. On the other hand, there’s plenty of time to cover his awful treatment of his wife, the endless harrumphing of the one-dimensional aristocrats, a completely irrelevant and utterly repugnant deer hunt, and other such nonsense.

There’s also ample reason to question the film’s accuracy, apparent from the disparity between how the movie ends and the subsequent title cards telling us something else, and also from the pure speculation involved about many of the events that transpire. We’re also expected to blindly accept the premise of the sophistication of the ancient native civilization and its groundbreaking implications since the film never shows us much reason for it. And the icing on the cake is that, as a British movie, we’re subjected to the ridiculous assertion that the titular city is pronounced “zed” rather than “zee”.

But even if the pacing and believability problems were addressed, it’s likely that the film would’ve been mediocre at best. How can it be anything more than that when this version of the story doesn’t have a crazy Tim Curry and a signing ape?