Two sweeping epics that were meant to compete for Oscar land on screens in the dead of April. Why?
Not all historical epics make it to the Oscars.
On paper, “The Lost City of Z” and “The Promise” seem built for awards season consideration, telling serious, sweeping stories with high caliber performances and top-line stars. But in an increasingly crowded and competitive marketplace, they’ve been shuffled outside of traditional Oscar time and find themselves landing on screen in the final weeks of April, the pre-summer dumping ground that’s like an Island of Misfit Toys for awards fodder that for whatever reason missed the cut.
“The Lost City of Z” (pronounced “The Lost City of Zed” — those wacky Brits) is the more interesting, more realized of the two films. It tells the story of Percy Fawcett (a sensational Charlie Hunnam), a British explorer who in the early 1900s made several treks to the Amazon in search of a mythical lost city.
Fawcett is nearly driven mad by his pursuit of what he believes to be the truth, taking on his family, the British aristocracy and nature itself in his quest. It feels as though writer-director James Gray (“Two Lovers”) was similarly focused and bull-headed in his vision, so in a way the movie becomes a movie about him making the movie.
Hunnam (“Sons of Anarchy”) is intense and captivating in a role that requires him to be in nearly every frame of the film, which spans a 20-year period (he shows only the slightest signs of aging over two decades) and stretches well past the two-hour mark. It’s a bold journey and it’s a little bonkers, but like Fawcett, “The Lost City of Z” is admirable in its resilience.
“The Promise” could have used some of Gray’s determination. Set in the final years of the Ottoman Empire, director Terry George’s scattered film stars Oscar Isaac as an Armenian medical student in Turkey, Christian Bale as an American journalist and Charlotte Le Bon as a woman torn between them.
On the strength of Isaac and Bale’s names alone, “The Promise” should have been priority viewing, but it’s all over the place, taking on the Armenian Genocide, journalism ethics, foreign diplomacy and a host of other weighty topics. It’s handsomely shot, but stuffy and never truly finds its footing, and should come with a flowchart to help viewers keep track of the shifting whereabouts of its characters. “The Promise” knows where it’s headed, but can’t stop from stumbling on its way there, which makes it more lost than any city of Z.
‘The Lost City of Z’
Rated PG-13: for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity
Running time: 141 minutes
Rated PG-13: for thematic material including war atrocities, violence and disturbing images, and for some sexuality
Running time: 134 minutes