THE LOST CITY
There's something to the idea that filmmakers should never be too emotionally invested in the stories they tell, for detachment as well as passion makes art congeal. Case in point: Andy Garcia‚s The Lost City, a heartfelt ode to the filmmaker‚s native Cuba that feels less informed by the filmmake's artistic good sense than it does by his appetite for cultural closure.
Directed by Garcia from an ambitious, rangy script by late Cuban novelist Guillermo Cabrera Infante, the movie has the makings of a Latin Legends of the Fall. Set in the last, dwindling days of pre-Castro Cuba, it tells the story of the Fellove clan, a well-to-do family of progressive intellectuals led by don Donoso Fellove (Richard Bradford).
Don Fellove has three sons: successful nightclub owner Fico (Garcia), disgruntled patriot Luis (Nestor Carbonell) and Castro sympathizer Ricardo (Enrique Murciano), the youngest and most bitterly disillusioned of the bunch.
With the regime of strongman Fulgencio Batista (Juan Fernandez) showing signs of collapse, the future of Cuba is a hot topic at the family dinner table. Luis and Ricardo want to take action against Batista and his ruthless security apparatus. Fico is more of a realist: It‚s all about family and work.
Increasingly, it will be hard for Fico to separate politics from his personal life. American gangster Meyer Lansky (Dustin Hoffman, in little more than a cameo) is muscling him for a piece of his El Tropico nightclub. Later, Ricardo is picked up by the police, forcing Fico to call in a favor with an old buddy on the force. When la revolucion finally does hit the fan, Fico finds himself torn between his own values of free expression and his love for a widow (Ines Sastre) who naively becomes a Castro true believer.
The Lost City drags mightily toward the end of its 144-minute running time, the result of a certain meticulousness on the part of Garcia, here making his directorial debut. Every loose end must be tied up. Every character must achieve precise karmic tailoring. Too often, we feel the filmmakers‚ personal feelings about communist Cuba reach through the screen and manhandle these characters. It‚s moralizing, and it does't sit well.
So what does The Lost City have going for it? Great music, including the score, which Garcia wrote himself. The scenes at the El Tropico sizzle, recalling the cha-cha-ing Havana of yore. And Bill Murray is a hoot as a nameless American gag writer who loiters in Fico‚s office, wryly commenting on the events of the day.
The irony of it is, Garcia knows how to craft a scene. With the Dominican Republic standing in handsomely for 1950s Cuba, The Lost City has a bittersweet, brooding quality that nicely matches the subject matter.
Garcia has better work in him. He just needs a little less investment.