I find it difficult sometimes to review movies on DVD. Why? Because I believe that I have ADD, that’s why. While at home, I generally shift from one task to another at a whim and without regard for whether I have finished the previous task. This type of behavior makes it very difficult to focus on and analyze a film that does not capture my attention. The benefit of this is that I know when I am not interested in a film – I do not finish it. Unfortunately this only happens with DVDs, as I have never walked out of a movie in a theater.
So it is safe to say that Andy Garcia’s first major release as a director, The Lost City, was at a significant disadvantage when I sat down to view it in the comfort of my living room. Just to throw salt on the already open wound, I decided to watch it with my lovely lady friend, another tough situation for a young guy like me who has always raging hormones. So it doesn’t surprise me that I did not get more than about 35 minutes into the movie before I lost interest and began other activities. And lets just say that those other activities were far more interesting than the plot of this film.
Yet even though I had trouble making it through the initial screening of the film, I was still determined to give it a fair shot. I decided to watch it again, alone, with no foreseeable distractions present. And for the most part, it stuck a little better the second time. The film tells the story of a family in Cuba around the time that the oppressive regime of Batista was overthrown in lieu of the Marxist nation that now exists under Fidel Castro. Within the family are three brothers; the eldest Fico (Andy Garcia), who is a prominent nightclub owner in Havana, and the two younger siblings Luis and Ricardo (Nestor Carbonell and Enrique Murciano), who are secretly in the ranks of the revolution.
As a director, Garcia does a wonderful job of visualizing what 1950s Cuba looked like — the glitz, the glamour, and the night life are all elements that are alluring and meticulously executed, so much so that the city of Havana becomes more of a secondary character in the film than just a backdrop. The cinematography is fantastic, and it is complemented by an excellent and very rhythmic soundtrack. It gave me a much greater appreciation of Andy Garcia, as he showed off some sharp skills as a director.
But the downfall of this film seems to be somewhere in between its pace and its length. The story is a good story, but it drags – and drags – and drags us along until the end. The running time of 143 minutes feels more like six hours because of the heavy amounts of dialogue used to set up the mere moments of action. It is not a thrill seekers' movie, but more of a film for historians and scholars. It is as if Garcia wanted to make his film so historically accurate that he forgot to make it interesting to the average moviegoer.
There were also a few bits and pieces of the story that just seemed unnecessary. A few well placed bit parts, including Dustin Hoffman as a mob boss and Julia Oscar Mechoso as the dirty head of Batista’s goon squad, were flanked by Bill Murray popping into the film as a writer/bodyguard/confidant for Fico that just didn’t fit in the film. I tried and tried, but failed to find his purpose in the whole mess. Had the filmmaker excised these unnecessary elements, I believe the film would have been easier to get through.
Ultimately The Lost City is a film that is beautifully shot, and it tells a very accurate tale of Cuban history. But it never really grabs the audience and holds them close. From afar, Garcia gives us a wonderful view of Cuba in her glory, but fails to deliver to us a story upon which we can latch our attention. Needless to say, I didn’t quite finish the film the second time; I had to watch it a third time in order to make it all the way through – and that ain’t good.
The DVD doesn’t do a ton to save the film from being a little – well, boring, but it does have a good amount of special features. There is a pretty solid feature on the making of the film, some deleted scenes (of which there should have been more), and some commentary from Andy Garcia and Production Designer Waldemar Kalinowski, which is great because they explain a lot about the best part of the film – the look.
The Upside: The film is beautifully shot, and gives us a wonderful look at 1950s Cuba.
The Downside: Too much dialogue gums up the parts of the film in between the mere moments of action. It develops slowly, and finishes even more slowly.
On the Side: Garcia's first draft of the script was 306 pages. It was later trimmed to 120 pages.
Release Date: August 8, 2006