Exploration of the Amazon conjures up exotic scenery, mystical spiritualism, and perhaps, high-adventure. Adapted from the novel of the same name, James Grey is able to achieve only one of these elements; the beautifully captured backdrops, in an otherwise stoically beige and watch-checking 140 minutes.
The source material is a patchwork biography following the thankless journey of Percival Fawcett (Hunnam) at the turn of the twentieth century. In order to undo his disreputable heritage, Fawcett takes it upon himself to prove to his fellow peers at the Royal Geographic Society that civilised societies existed thousands of years ago in the Peruvian region. By doing so, he embarks on several expeditions to the jungle, each time discovering artefacts which warrant several return visits.
Grey’s film is clearly faithful to the book and historical fact by way of inaction. Each journey to the Amazon is beset with difficulties, but none of them ever appear to warrant the grandeur of its surroundings, nor the uneventful (and deliberate) slow pacing.
After the first expedition’s anti-climax, one would have hoped for an expansion of Fawcett’s life in England. Sadly, all we are given is his baby-machine wife, Nina Fawcett (Sienna Miller), in a poorly drawn sequence of narrated letters to her husband, and though Miller clearly tries to do as much with the character as possible; there’s not much to work with, often fading into the background or going through the machinations of longing for her husband’s safe return.
Dialogue is delivered with the received pronunciation of the time, never dropping the mask to allow any deeper connection with the characters. Frequently, what can be an impassioned speech is delivered in a manner that would not be out of place in parody. However, for lack of speech, Robert Pattinson’s bedraggled crewman, Henry, is a curio. His muted demeanour is a fascinating study in performance acting, with his emotion largely displayed through movements and only the upper half of his visible face.
In being steadfast to Grann’s book (itself being biographical), The Lost City Of Z need not embellish the truth. Though, a lighter touch in a zippier screenplay could have unburdened the heavy prestige it brings to the screen, lumbering through repetitively uneventful treks, weighed down by the constant gloom and misty focus.
If there is a saving grace, the mysteries of the Amazon and its people linger throughout, and what little we are given increases this intrigue, as the adventurers plough deeper into its recesses. Occasionally, The Lost City Of Z hints at going in directions befitting of its moodily sepia cinematography. Primarily, in its closing sequence, where there is a grimness hanging in the air, evocative of that seen in Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust, but alas, it is a red herring, leaving the conclusion as unsatisfying as its duration of non-thrills.
As capable as he is in other work, here, Hunnam’s persona is key. He is unable to make Pervical Fawcett’s adventure anything more than a boat ride down the Thames, being spat at by naughty school children with peashooters, returning to his peers and repeatedly laughed at in an assembly hall.
We’ve seen umpteen ventures into the Amazon, from Werner Herzog’s barmy Fitzcarraldo/Aguirre, the Wrath of God, to the 2016 Oscar-nominated documentary, Embrace Of The Serpent, all of whom collectively rank of greater interest and merit than this turgid tread-water retelling.