Tuesday, April 25, 2017
By Susan GrangerSpecial to WestportNow
Based on David Grann’s 2009 nonfiction best-seller, “The Lost City of Z” chronicles the incredible adventures of a status-seeking British soldier, Col. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who explored the Amazon River a full century ago.
Dispatched in 1906 by the aristocratic Royal Geographical Society, Fawcett’s mission is to map the dangerous, uncharted realms of eastern Bolivia, where it borders with Brazil.
Thrashing through the South American rain forest with his Army comrades, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley), plus requisite guides and porters, he discovers not only the source of the Rio Verde River but also tribal pottery and carvings, indications of an ancient city and long-lost civilization hidden somewhere in the dense foliage - And he is determined to find it.
Driven by this mystical, near-maniacal obsession, Fawcett learns a great deal about anthropology and endures an excruciating second expedition in 1911, accompanied by another explorer, scornful James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), who becomes a dangerous liability.
Meanwhile, back in England, his dutiful wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and children become accustomed to his long absences. Eventually, his eldest son Jack (Tom Holland) decides to join his third expedition in the 1925; they were never seen or heard from again.
As foretold by his indigenous guide, Tadjui (Pedro Coello): “For you, there is no escape from the jungle.”
This quest concept started seven years ago with Brad Pitt. Several incarnations later, it’s chronologically adapted and referentially directed by James Gray (“The Immigrant”) with scenes subtly suggestive of Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.” Yet cinematographer Darius Khondji never even comes close to John Boorman’s expansive, atmospheric imagery in “The Emerald Forest.”
Problem is: there’s little emotional involvement or critique of England’s patronizing imperialism, topics which intrigued Werner Herzog in “Aguirre, the Wrath of God” and “Fitzcarraldo.”
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “The Lost City of Z” is a sprawling yet superficial 6. As Fawcett says, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp.”
Because of strong ties with the Turkish government, American presidents have never acknowledged the Ottoman Empire’s systematic annihilation of 1.5 million Armenians between 1915 and 1918 as “genocide.”
So “The Promise” is a historical epic, beginning in 1914, as Mikael Boghosian (Oscar Isaac), an ambitious, young apothecary in Siroun, a small southern Turkish village, is betrothed a local girl so he can use her dowry to attend medical school in Constantinople, promising to marry her once he’s a doctor.
In cosmopolitan Constantinople (now Istanbul), naive Mikael moves in with his father’s cousin, a local merchant, and meets vivacious, Paris-educated Ana Kasabian (Charlotte Le Bon), who is tutoring his nieces. Since Ana lives with an angry American journalist, Chris Myers (Christian Bale), an ill-fated romantic triangle takes shape.
When Ottoman Turks enter World War I as allies of Germany, a classmate’s bribe gets Mikael a medical school deferment. But when anti-Armenian violence erupts, he’s sent to forced labor on the railroad.
When Mikael escapes, he returns to war-ravaged Siroun, reluctantly marries his fiancee, then hides in a mountain cabin. Meanwhile, inquisitive Chris Myers is chronicling the atrocities inflicted on the Armenian population, dispatching them to American newspapers via The Associated Press.
By this time, the contrived romantic rivalry subplot should be on a back burner. Unfortunately, it isn’t. So the real-life slaughter is trivialized into an awkward, overtly manipulative melodrama.
Weakly scripted by Robin Swicord (“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) and director Terry George (“Hotel Rwanda”), it was financed by the late Armenian entrepreneur Kirk Kerkorian - with a distinguished supporting cast: Shohreh Aghdashloo, Jean Reno, James Cromwell, Rede Serbedzija and Angela Sarafyan.
Since the film’s inception, there’s been controversy. “The genocide is burned into the soul of the Armenian diaspora,” explains Terry George “And until they get some kind of recognition, it’s not going to go away.”
On the Granger Gauge, “The Promise” is an earnestly solemn 6. But it loses its focus, diluting the emotional impact of the harrowing massacre.
(Editor’s Note: Westport resident Susan Granger grew up in Hollywood, studied journalism with Pierre Salinger at Mills College, and graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with highest honors in journalism. In addition to writing for newspapers and magazines, she has been on radio/television as an anchorwoman and movie/drama critic for many years. See her reviews at www.susangranger.com.)
Posted 04/25/17 at 01:25 PM Permalink