James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z” is a captivating trek through history, exploring one of the most fascinating mysteries of the 20th Century.
It’s not always compelling however, as the source material is grand (I’m told the book is far more suspenseful), despite omitting vital and important facts of Percy Fawcett’s ground breaking expedition. Who was Percy Fawcett? That’s where the film and Charlie Hunnam’s performance succeeds, it’s more than two hours of character development. The running time begins to take a toll on the audience, the bleak filter shields much of the jungle’s glorious color and some of the editing choice focus on material I would rather have gotten in a passage than sacrifice more of the jungle time. “The Lost City of Z” is a unique, but old fashioned, cinematic experience for audiences armed with patience and curiosity.
Plagued by the discretions of his family name, Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is offered a dangerous role outside the British military, to lead a surveying expedition into Bolivia. He and colleague Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) are sent by the Royal Geographic Society to draw the lines for a map between two countries that will prevent a rubber war in 1907. What Fawcett and Costin discover on their journey gives rise to far greater implications than lines on a map. Fawcett returns to England greeted by wife (Sienna Miller) and second child, but also criticism. His claims of a lost city hidden deep in the Amazon predating anything in the history books causes a national debate. Fawcett returns to the jungle not only to vindicate his word, but finding what he calls The Lost City of Zed becomes an obsessive legacy.
“To look for what is beautiful is its own reward.” “The Lost City of Z” doesn’t give the viewer what they expect, the same could be said for Fawcett. This film and another April release “Queen of the Desert” starring Nicole Kidman, follow Brits of the same era, risking their lives to explore new territory. ‘Z’ is a more complete film, but suffers many of the same problems and time constraints. It’s easy to fall victim to fascination, and Fawcett’s ambition and discoveries are just that. Hunnam might be fixed up to favor Brad Pitt in “Fury” (Pitt’s company Plan B also produced the film), but his uncanny resemblance shouldn’t distract from the breakthrough the “Sons of Anarchy” actor is experiencing. The same goes for Miller (“American Sniper”) who also delivers what’s easily her most memorable performance, despite playing the usual supportive wife role.
Pacing will always be an issue with a film like that feels loyalty to subject matter, history and the book in which this adaptation is based. The most surprising moment of the film is the first time we are taken from the jungle back to England. It’s then you realize why it’s over two hours. Now, I found the passage into the jungle one of the most engaging aspects of the film. Yet Gray stuffs the story with scenes of war, or recovery while sacrificing material I would rather have seen. A brief look into the history of Fawcett reveals a major age change casting Hunnam, although the makeup artistry here is extraordinary. The first act, getting into the jungle is based on fact, while the third on theory and legend. Both equally alluring, save that lull in the middle section. “The Lost City of Z” is respectable, stunning in some places, admirable performances, yet never reaches that irresistible, must-see level.
Final thought — a curiously complex, nearly brilliant, historical adventure that requires an equal amount of patience and stamina to finish.