The Lost City is one of those rare films (at least these days) that isn’t afraid to take a look back in history without sending a political message. These days when there is a story about the history of the U.S. like say Good Night and Good Luck, there is always an attempt to persuade the viewer into believing what the filmmakers are trying to say. Usually the message is a liberal one, and the fact that The Lost City’s message is as non-existant and therefore as neutral as it is will not make it a success, either at the box office or the with the critics. It definitely doesn’t deserve that fate, since director Andy Garcia’s dream project is one of beauty, originality, emotion, and best of all subtlety. The film has a very classy feel, and is frequently a throwback to the movies of the early to mid 70’s in it’s style and dialogue.
It telss the story of Cuban nightclub owner Fico Fellove (Andy Garcia who is also starring in addition to directing) who has to deal with Cuba’s transition from an oppressive, somewhat “democratic” regime, to the Communist, Castro-led government. With the transition, the lives of the whole Fellove family falls apart and they are forced to make some tough desicions. They are tormented between leaving the country they love and staying in a country that will never let them live their lives as they should. Fico becomes a psychological wreck, a troubled man who is not only sad about having to leave Cuba for New York, but also feels guilt and embarassment, because he ran away from his home, instead of staying to protect it, to attempt to get it back to what it was.
In many ways this is more about Cuba than anything else. While Garcia was forced to film in the Dominican Republic, this does feel and look like the now-mythical 50’s Cuba. It’s beautifully rendered and its authenticity is simply eye-catching. That is because of Cuban-native Garcia’s love for his country. This whole film is made with love and is one that frequently touches it’s audience. It will especially touch people from Cuban descent, because it does feature a lot of Cuban customs and interests including great Cuban music and a lot of Cuban lifestyle quirks that remind us that every nation has it’s own way of living and pre-Communist Cuba lived it beautifully.
Of course as soon as the Communists arrive so does the ugliness. Quickly, Fico’s brother Luis (Nestor Carbonell) is killed and with his death the movie really picks up. His death also has two effects – Fico getting closer to his sister-in-law Aurora (Ines Sastre) who he reluctantly falls in love with. That is kinda sick, but she isn’t related to him by blood, so it doesn’t have as bad an effect as it might have in a Steven Soderbergh film. Another effect Luis’ death has is that it leads members of Fico’s family to become radicals, especially Ricardo (Enrique Murciano) who even joins Che Guevara in a revolution that becomes a success. The success of it becomes a threat to Fico’s family business, since they are related to Ricardo. After that Fico moves to the U.S. where he has to go through a lot of hard work in order to accomplish success.
It’s great to see the three individual parts the script is divided into. There is the slow and beautiful first part which highlights Cuban life in the 50’s, then there is the violent, fast-paced middle, that represents the Communist take-over and the revolution against it. After that though, the movie enters America and in the shortest part of the film, examines America’s positives and negatives and frequently compares it to Cuba. The negative aspect of the script is Bill Murray. Yup, read that sentence again – it was Bill Murray. He is the narrator of the story alsoo known as “The Writer” and his way of judging the characters in the film is simply foul.
One wonders why Garcia chose to do this. This film would have been much better without a narrator, especially one as seemingly disconnected from the actual story as The Writer is. Yes, Andy I know Bill is your friend, but he is not poor ok! I’m sure he doesn’t need the money that much, that you almost ruin your whole movie because of it. Granted, it’s very possible Garcia thought it would be cool and more attractive of audiences to stick Bill Murray in there (who probably did it for free anyways), along with giving Dustin Hoffman an elongated cameo as a mob-boss, ehich he pulls off surprisingly well.
The acting in the film is really good, especially from the supporting characters. Fico’s family is made up of all kinds of characters and his mother and father are probably the two most effective characters in the book, and they get plenty of screen time. Of course so does everyone else worth mentioning, because this film is a whopping 2 hours and 20 minutes long. Considering it’s also a talky, the acting needs to be on par. Andy Garcia is on par, as he does well when directing himself, but he does retain some of the acting qualities that have made him an almost unlikeable actor, like he is almost always half-smiling. I mean come on man. Even when you cry? As his love interest Aurora, Ines Sastre seems to be the only negative in the film, not because she isn’t one of the more beautiful women in cinema, but because her acting is somewhat stilted. Stilted acting might work in something like UltraViolet, but her, in a film that requires a lot of seriousness and emotion, her inabilities really stick out.
The low budget of the film almost doesn’t effect the quality of the picture, although it is noticeable enough at times. This is yet another actor-funded project and while the film looks a little grainy, what’s there is beautiful. The cinematography is excellent and the set design by Bill Cimino hits all the right buttons to make the viewer at times even gawk at all the beauty. Also the score is worth mentioning again. because its Cuban qualities are very out there and noticeable, so it’s not only good, it’s also fun to listen to. Of course composer Emanuelle Kadosh slows it down considerably during the emotional scenes and creates beautiful moments that considerably differ with the more laid-back stuff.
Overall, i recommend this film, if only slightly, because, while I admire it for its technical excellency and its emotional tribute to Cuba, I think that the script (not dialogue-wise) really lets Garcia down. Still, many will enjoy this endlessly, and I think it might make many Top 10 lists, but it won’t make mine, because it didn’t keep me interested throughout, and considering its long running length, it caused a lot of shuffling in my seat.