“I wish to find a lost city,” says Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). “What you seek is far greater than you ever imagined. Your soul will never be quiet until you find this place,” replies a fortune teller as Fawcett gets ready to lead his men into battle during the first World War in the dramatic film, The Lost City of Z.
At the dawn of the 20th century, Colonel Percy Fawcett is chosen by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the uncharted jungles of the Amazon. He’s tasked with creating maps to be used by the British government, maps that will, hopefully, lead to the country’s financial gain. Fawcett’s initially disappointed having wished for a more exciting adventure, but he eventually accepts the position while remaining hopeful he’ll be able to make a name for himself and rise higher on the social ladder.
Percy is joined on this mission by Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), an aide-de-camp he meets up with on his journey to the Amazon. Percy admits to Henry they’ll need to depend and rely on each other if they hope to make it out of the inhospitable wilderness alive.
Once in the jungle, Percy and Henry are forced to deal with a variety of dangers. Percy, Henry, and their small team must constantly be on alert as they travel, with poisonous insects, unbearable heat, and indigenous cannibalistic tribes launching spears at their passing boats keeping the group on high alert. During their trip down the river, one of the natives Fawcett is using as a guide tells him of a long lost city which Fawcett disregards as a fairy tale. That is until near the end of his trip down the river when Fawcett finds pottery lying in the jungle where it has no business being. Fawcett is convinced his guide was telling the truth and that there is in fact a lost city that’s been swallowed up by the jungle. Percy nicknames this mysterious city “Zed” and becomes obsessed with finding the ancient city.
Based on an inspirational true story, The Lost City of Z from writer/director James Gray is beautifully shot and well-acted, although it does suffer from an occasionally frustratingly slow pace. It’s reminiscent in style and substance to such films as Apocalypse Now and Lord Jim, comparing favorably to both.
Charlie Hunnam (best known as ‘Jax Teller’ in Sons of Anarchy) delivers a solid performance as the British explorer Percy Fawcett who, in hopes of making a name for himself and improving his social stature, gets lost in his obsession to find the mythical Lost City of Z. Percy returns home and is hailed as a hero, and Hunnam subtly displays how Fawcett still longs to return to the jungle despite his newfound popularity and the fact his wife and children missed him terribly. Also impressive is how Hunnam effectively shows how Fawcett worked to communicate and befriend the natives of the Amazon in the hopes of learning something about the path to Zed. Percy’s very much a peacemaker and bridge to the British explorers and the natives, and Hunnam does a terrific job displaying Fawcett’s ability to feel at peace among the native tribes.
Robert Pattinson delivers the best performance of his career and is almost unrecognizable under a long shaggy beard as Henry, Percy’s loyal assistant and eventual good friend. Henry truly had Percy’s back during the most deadly and dangerous times on their journeys into the jungle, saving his life more than once and even getting himself transferred to serve with Fawcett in World War I on the front lines. Pattinson’s performance is subdued and reserved, but extremely effective.
In a supporting role, Sienna Miller delivers another strong performance as Fawcett’s devoted, smart, and often abandoned wife, Nina, who’s left to raise their three children and support the family mostly on her own while her husband is off exploring jungles. Miller and Hunnam have good chemistry, and Miller has a very powerful scene at the end of the film where she shows just how much Nina loved and believed in her husband.
The Lost City of Z is visually breathtaking with outstanding cinematography by Darius Khondji bringing the jungle of the Amazon to life in all its wonder, beauty, and dangers. Gray’s pacing and storytelling on the first two adventures into the jungle are almost flawless, capturing the hard, slow-moving and dangerous journey Fawcett and Costin made deep into the uncharted territory. It’s when the film moves to the First World War and then finally years later to Fawcett’s finallast journey back into the Amazon that the film starts to drag and feels drawn out.
Despite the minor problem with pacing in the third act, the top-notch performances, stunning cinematography, and a worthy, engaging true story finally being told about Fawcett’s adventures in the Amazon make The Lost City of Z a film that should be seen up on the big screen to truly appreciate the craftsmanship put into its making.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity
Running Time: 141 minutes