The Lost City of Z
Director: James Gray
Stars: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller
Duration: 141 mins
KRS Releasing Ltd
I knew nothing about The Lost City of Z - expecting, given its rather B-movie-style title, a throwback to the action-adventure films of yore. While there is action-adventure aplenty, the film is actually an elegantly-crafted and gripping biographical movie about one man’s obsession with the titular city he believed was to be found deep in the Amazon forest.
In 1906, Lieutenant Colonel Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to assist the Brazilian and Bolivian authorities who were at the time involved in a border dispute. The expedition involves mapping much of Bolivia’s uncharted territory deep in the forest. And so, Fawcett, his aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Robert Pattison), and the other members of his team leave behind the comforts of Edwardian London to face untold dangers, until they stumble upon what he believes is evidence of the existence of a lost city.
Back safely in the UK, Fawcett’s discovery and resultant theories are met with ridicule by his august colleagues, many of whom believe it is impossible that the native ‘murderous savages’ of South America could have ever been civilised enough to have built a city. Yet, determined to find the lost ‘City of Z’, Fawcett returns to the Amazon, this second trip doomed to failure following the disruptive actions of one of the participants, yet he never gave up on his dream, despite the onset of World War I.
An old-school film that offers excitement, emotion and full engagement with its protagonist
Furthermore, although Fawcett had the unfailing support of his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), he risked the alienation of his children, especially his eldest son Jack (Tom Holland).
There is something charmingly quaint suffused with a whiff of nostalgia about the approach taken by writer/director James Gray, working off the book The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann. The film brings to the screen an accurate depiction of the romance of discovery within the harshest of conditions as the expedition comes across impenetrable terrain, raging river rapids, predators – both human and animal – disease and death. But it goes much deeper than that.
It successfully portrays Fawcett’s determination to prove to himself and others that he was right, as he navigated extremely perilous territory and negotiated with tribal chiefs, both friendly and hostile. With none of the technology available to us today, Fawcett used his rudimentary tools and means of transport to overcome the former obstacle, and his charm, instinct and intellect the latter.
Moreover, in the film’s depiction of the Amazonian natives, and the perception of them by westerners - and the attitude of some of the RGS’ members towards Fawcett himself - it also addresses the ever-relevant themes of nationality, race and class.
While Fawcett is depicted ostensibly as a heroic figure, the script does not shy away from the many demons he has to fight. Desperate to prove himself in the army - his father having been a disgraced alcoholic - Fawcett grabbed the opportunity offered to him by the RGS to redeem himself; yet this only served to fan the flame of curiosity that burned deep inside him. This in turn only led to more internal conflict as he spent more and more time away from his wife and growing family.
In arguably his best role to date, Hunnam makes the most of his matinee idol blonde good looks that really epitomise the dashing adventurer. He brings to bear the character’s dreams and ambitions and the internal conflicts he had to overcome to realise them. He also faces external obstacles - those who believed he was doomed to fail - expertly walking the line between admirable ambition and dangerous obsession.
Pattison offers solid support as Costin, Hunnam’s second, friend, and confidante; oftentimes he was the only one who truly believed in Fawcett’s venture while at the same time being the voice of reason. Meanwhile, Miller flies the flag for the female gender, a woman who shared her husband’s spirit of adventure but is frustrated by the mores of the time that dictated she stayed home to raise the family.
The Lost City of Z is a great discovery, an old-school film offering excitement, emotion and full engagement with its protagonist.