The Lost City of Z

May 1, 2017 at 11:06 am | Posted in 2017, James Gray | Leave a comment
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Read the book. That’s where I’ll start and, frankly, where I could end. I don’t know that there is much more to say about this rather uninspired film. New York Times reporter David Grann’s book of the same name was published in 2009. In meticulous detail, and after years of research, Grann outlines the story of Percy Fawcett’s obsession with the Amazon and with finding evidence for the lost civilization he knew had once existed there. Contrary to all of the thinking at the time, Fawcett was convinced that South America had once housed advanced civilizations (something that we now know is absolutely the case) and he spent much of the early 20th Century going back to the Amazon again and again to try and prove it. Grann’s book spends much of its time in the rainforest with Fawcett and his various compatriots. One of the most griping things about the book is how detailed it gets in describing the horrors of jungle life– mosquitoes, skin burrowing bugs, the endless heat. Grann also digs deeply into the psyche of this quintessentially Edwardian British man. He was a stereotype of the “stiff upper lip” and could be unrelentingly cruel and uncaring to others who lacked his herculean fortitude and will power. His obsession exhausted everyone who knew him, not least of all his family. His wife was forced to raise the family in virtual poverty for decades during his campaigns and his son so desperately wanted his approval that he eventually followed his father into the jungle. I say all of this because it is the meat of the story and it just isn’t in the film. It’s hinted at in parts but the movie lightly glides over everything of emotional substance and gives us instead a boys’ adventure tale based little on facts. This Fawcett is far more nobly portrayed. Also, even though this film clocks in at an exhausting 141 minutes, far less time is spent in the jungle. We get snippets of WWI, Fawcett family life and Royal Geographic Society drama. And, when we are in the jungle, the real experience of it has been replaced with Hollywood cliches like piranha attacks and arrows through books. In fact, the whole film felt like a cliche from 20 years ago. The cinematography was uninspiring (which, given the location, feels like a lost opportunity). None of the actors seemed to know what to do with their roles; they all seemed to be acting, rather than becoming their parts. The dialogue didn’t help. Everyone spoke in cliches all the time. By the end, I was so disengaged that I didn’t much care that we had, by at point, replaced fact with utter fantasy. This was a silly movie about a fascinating man. What a shame. As I said before, read the book.

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