Hot Take: This classic adventure film is both reserved and resplendent in its telling of the story of Colonel Percy Fawcett, a military man-turned-explorer sent to South America on a mapping expedition that turned into a lifelong obsession with finding a mythical lost city deep within the Amazon.
The Lost City of Z is based on a New York Times bestseller by David Grann entitled The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon. The nonfiction tale of Percy Fawcett written and directed by James Gray spans 2 hours and 20 minutes and crams a lot into its epic run time. It’s a risky proposition for a film to try and cover so much and extend past the 2 hour mark but the film maintains an engaging pace and is engrossing enough to carry the audience through to the finish without that belabored feeling many movies of its length can sometimes give you.
Charlie Hunnam stars as Fawcett. Best known for his role as Jax on Sons of Anarchy, Hunnam delivers one of the best performances of the year in this role. With his family name besmirched, Fawcett is given the opportunity to restore honor to it by completing a risky mapmaking mission in the depths of the Amazon jungle in South America. Leaving behind his pregnant wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and joined by Corporal Henry Costin (Robert Pattison), Fawcett embarks on the dangerous mission that sees Fawcett and his crew encounter sickness, hunger and attacks from the jungle natives on their harrowing trip down the Amazon in an attempt to find its source. When they reach their destination, Fawcett and Costin discover broken pottery and signs of an ancient civilization that could have existed deep within the jungle.
As the film progresses, so does Fawcett’s obsession. In reality, Fawcett’s obsession actually ran deeper as his 8 missions to Amazonia are condensed to 3 to keep the film from spanning more than 3 hours. There’s also a point where Fawcett has a disagreement with one of the men who accompanies them on the 2nd mission detailed in the film which leads Fawcett to quit the Royal Geographical Society which forces him into military action during World War I. This is where the film loses some steam as The Lost City of Z moves from the jungle to the battlefields of northern Belgium. While the battle scenes are as beautifully shot as the rest of the film, it feels like a distraction from the heart of the story and dwells a little too long on this aspect of his life. Eventually, the film returns to the jungle for a 3rd mission which sees Fawcett accompanied into the jungle by his son Jack (Tom Holland) who has now also been caught up with his father’s obsession of proving there was an ancient lost city deep within the jungle.
One of the most compelling aspects of the film is its cinematography. Thanks to a decision to make the most authentic looking film possible, Gray took the cast and crew to the Colombian jungle and captured the footage on film. The results play out tremendously on screen and give the entire film a truly cinematic feel. The shots of their river expedition have a classic feel to them which ages the project appropriately for the subject’s time period. It gives the film the authenticity Gray was likely aiming for when he set out on the ambition endeavor.
The Lost City of Z is a film that captures the flavor of the type of film that was popular decades ago but has fallen out of favor recently with Hollywood’s obsession with special effects and action. It’s a definite throwback to a different style of film but isn’t the first in recent years to try and capture the magic of these epic adventures. It just so happens to be one of those rare occasions where the attempt actually works. They don’t bother making them like this anymore because it usually doesn’t meet with positive results. The Lost City of Z is proof they shouldn’t give up.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
- The Jungle Cruise
Part of me thinks it would be fun to compare the authentic shots of the river expedition of The Lost City of Z to the digitized and computer generated shots of The Jungle Book. Both films have their place at the cinema and both achieved impressive results with completely different paths to their visuals. In The Lost City of Z, you can see some of the limitations the filmmaker must work around to get the best possible footage not to mention the harrowing tales of hardship the cast and crew faced in the jungle getting the most out of their shoots.
As The Lost City of Z progressed, I kept thinking Hunnam had a Brad Pitt quality about him. Coincidentally, Pitt is tied to this project as its executive producer. Originally, the role of Fawcett was meant for Benedict Cumberbatch but it fell in Hunnam’s lap when Cumberbatch bailed due to scheduling issues. While Cumberbatch resembles the real life Fawcett more closely, the resulting film isn’t damaged by the swap and there’s one more reason to be less nervous about the upcoming release of King Arthur: Legend of the Sword which stars Hunnam as the titular character.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- The Distraction of War
While it isn’t Indiana Jones, this epic adventure finds its heart in the jungle. When it steps away from the jungle to send Fawcett off to war, it loses some of its steam. Although it does have you clamoring for one more return to the jungle, the war feels more like a distraction than a compelling plot device.