Maybe you get along great with your grandparents. Maybe they say they’re proud of you. And maybe you’re proud of them for the way they tell everyone they’re proud of you. Perhaps your youth wasn’t spend waiting for the day when their brittle, cold words of disappointment would no longer sting, only to discover that it hurt even more once they stopped caring.
I doubt it, though. In my experience, 100% of all grandparents are very, very disappointed. But this review is not about ancestral guilt. It’s about having to go back to their house on holidays and eat food off of all those fancy-ass plates, crystal glasses and silverware. All are reminders of formality, of a time when manners and polite conversation were expected. All that fancy shit doesn’t make the food taste better, turn the wine into Four Loko, or make their silence more bearable when you declare you recently found an entire case of waterlogged Payday bars behind the Sav-a-Lot that had barely been nibbled by the rats. This review is about The Lost City of Z, which has a fuck lot in common with your grandparents’ Waterford Crystal and Lennox China.
First of all, The Lost City of Z is as long and as boring as a holiday meal with old people. Second, it has all the trappings, all the fancy stemware, manners and never-raised voices. It has all the shit that is meant to elevate mundane meals to the level of occasion . Sure it looks pretty and formal, and it is definitely following the Merchant and Ivory manual for stories about snooty English people behaving like snooty English people. But I was bored out of my fucking skull and socks. This feels like an adventure movie written by Jane Austen.
Even if it takes place mostly in jungles and battlefields there is more in it for women than men. Lots of pretty Victorians costumes, candles and wallpapers. Lots of stiff, formal people speaking rationally to each other. Manners unflappable no matter the danger or situation. Not nearly enough excitement, the kind people go to jungle exploration movies for.
The Lost City of Z is based on the true story of Percy Fawcett, a British soldier who became obsessed with finding an advanced, prehistoric society deep in the Amazon. He keeps returning and going deeper into areas where Europeans had never been, always believing he was on the cusp of discovery before having to turn back.
There is a book that doesn’t feel obsessed with Victorian manners. It doesn’t have to spend so much fucking time and capital proving its authenticity. Fancy London lad wandering around in a brutal foreign land full of cannibals, flesh-eating fish and deadly snakes. He learns on the fly and he finds just enough clues to keep him coming back, certain that the old Victorian thought that the rest of the world is barbaric and ignorant is wrong.
The movie, though, is a frustratingly muted and mannered snore. It’s PBS shit, jungle adventure for the Masterpiece Theater crowd, or at least the eight or nine people still watching it. The Lost City of Z so much more interested in looking British, like a Merchant and Ivory production than it is in being exciting. Even encounters with piranhas and blow-darting natives are flat, filtered through the eyes of a Victorian novel. I never felt excited, afraid or even that interested. The outcome is a given -- Fawcett never found the city he sought, or if he did he didn’t tell anyone -- so the movie should find its excitement in other, smaller moments. Maybe it shouldn’t even tackle the entire book. Rather than have three separate expeditions, each fairly similar to the last, go into more depth in one of them.
It tells the whole story, though, giving as much weight to every scene, boring or not, as though its value is as historical documentation instead of storytelling. The reading of letters is as dramatic as the falling off a raft in white-water. The result feels more like those horseshit dress-up Jane Austen BBC productions than it does a jungle adventure. Here are some good-looking men in wool uniforms in a boat. Now they are in a dusty British museum, now they are back in a boat, now in a World War I foxhole, now back in boats. It doesn’t feel like it is building toward much of anything.
Charlie Hunnam plays Fawcett. Last time I saw him he was smirking his way through Pacific Rim and he was better at that. Here, it seems like his idea of acting is to play every scene exactly the same: furrowed brow, gravely voice and big mustache. His express little, his voice even less. All I know is he takes this all very fucking seriously. He has a wife (Sienna Miller) and children back home that the movie keeps telling us he loves, even though he can’t wait to get away from them. Similarly, there is a real lack of connection between Fawcett and the man who keeps going with him (Robert Pattinson) who I suppose is supposed to provide some comic relief and indicate to us that Fawcett is an honorable man worth following to the ends of the Earth. Truthfully, I wouldn’t know because I never laughed or felt amused. I never gave a shit whether this guy was honorable. Similarly, the themes of Fawcett redeeming his family name after his drunken father squandered it, and his desire to educate English snoots about the sophistication of South Americans are so fucking British and ancient that I didn’t care. It’s boring fucking phony shit, the sort that lonely women with cats care about only because they’d rather live in musty books than a tangible world.
You like nice crystal? Do you bemoan that there aren’t enough formal dinner parties these days? Well, here’s your chance to feel like you’re at one. And you can go alone, or with your grandparents. Which is how I prefer you go. Two Fingers for The Lost City of Z.