The Lost City of Z is an intriguing and well shot biography of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). Based on the bestselling book by David Grann, the film is written and directed by James Gray (The Immigrant, We Own the Night). It is a moody, insightful portrayal of a man beckoned to the harsh Amazon jungle. Fawcett was a loyal soldier of iron countenance who placed duty above all else, but dared to dream of archaeological greatness. His story is both a warning and testament to dangerous pursuits.
The Lost City of Z begins with Fawcett at the turn of the 20th century. Fawcett is a major stationed in Ireland with his devoted wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), and their young son, Jack. His career has reached an impasse. He has no medals to adorn his red dress uniform. He struggles to clear his family name from the drunken failure of his father. Fawcett, well regarded for his ability, is given a treacherous task by the Royal Geographical Society in London. Travel to an unexplored area of Bolivia. Chart the source of unmapped river that divides the country from Brazil.
Fawcett’s journey through South America is harrowing to say the least. En route, he is assigned Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) as a surveyor and traveling companion. The bearded and bespectacled Costin proves himself to be invaluable. Their friendship is formed through grit and terror. Fawcett’s adventures in the Amazon turn him into a hero back home. The accolades are gratifying, but what he discovers in the Amazon will change his life forever. It becomes his primary goal above all others, much to the consternation of his loving wife and children.
James Gray, known for his personal stories, takes a leap forward as a filmmaker. The Lost City of Z is shot in dark, muted colors on grainy stock. Gray is depicting a treacherous voyage into the unknown. From the rainy, drab Irish countryside, to the murky, near impassable Bolivian jungle, Fawcett’s is on no luxury cruise. Gray sells the difficulty of the expeditions. As Fawcett grows older, his brief time spent at home with his family is a source for conflict. They appreciate the risk and glory, but wonder when does it all become enough. As Nina realizes that they will never fill the void, the realization of where her husband’s heart truly lies is superb drama. Gray does an excellent job telling the story at home and abroad.
Charlie Hunnam is a revelation here. I’d seen Pacific Rim, but never saw him in Sons of Anarchy. Hunnam plays Fawcett with gravitas and fortitude. He’s a tough guy, but not arrogant or mindless. Fawcett is a product of his upbringing and the times. He was an officer above all else. Hunnam’s interplay with Sienna Miller and Robert Pattinson is realistic in the sense that it isn’t wordy. These characters are not prone to sermons or long monologues. They spoke directly without mincing words. Gray’s script is very concise. I didn’t feel there was any wasted dialogue.
The Lost City of Z is a serious film with brief interludes of action. There are several gritty scenes that take place during Fawcett’s service in World War I. Z is not in the vein of Indiana Jones. At two hours and twenty-four minutes, it is a deliberate, thoughtful look at the life and discoveries of Percy Fawcett. From Amazon Studios and Bleecker Street Films, The Lost City of Z can be viewed as James Gray’s Heart of Darkness. It’s not nearly on par with that classic, but very good in its own right.