The Lost City of Z (2016)

  • Time: 141 min
  • Genre: Action | Adventure | Biography
  • Director: James Gray
  • Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson


The Lost City of Z tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett – supported by his devoted wife, son and aide de camp returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925.

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  • Unlike Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now or Don Lope de Aguirre in Aguirre, the Wrath of God, The Lost City of Z’s Major Percy Fawcett’s adventure into the uncharted Amazonian jungle does not result in a descent into madness but rather a quest to, as one native puts it, “find a home for his spirit.”

    Percy (Charlie Hunnam) is the protagonist of James Gray’s sumptuous, slow-burn period drama, The Lost City of Z, based on the 2009 nonfiction work by David Grann. By all rights, he should be a happy man. He’s married to Nina (Sienna Miller), a woman whose beauty is matched by her intelligence, father to young Jack (played at different ages by Tom Mulheron, Bobby Smalldridge, and Tom Holland), and a fairly well-respected British Army officer. Yet, as he looks at the lack of medals on his dress uniform, not well-respected enough because “he’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors.”

    The chance to reclaim the legacy sullied by his father, who was a gambler and alcoholic, underpins Percy’s decision to accept the assignment presented to him by the Royal Geographic Society, who want him to map the border between Brazil and Bolivia. The foreign governments have been at war over the actual border lines and the British Empire, eager to protect their interest in Bolivia’s rubber plantations, have agreed to send a neutral party to definitively establish the boundary. The mission means a two-year absence from Nina and Jack, but Percy sets off with aide-de-camp Henry Costin (a bearded and spectacled Robert Pattinson) for the wilds of Amazonia.

    The adventure is not without its perils – Percy, Henry and their motley crew of assistants are on constant verge of attack from starvation, disease, and the hostile natives. Yet, once Henry discovers what he believes is evidence of a lost ancient city that he names “Z.” The members of the Royal Geographic Society are harder to convince once Henry returns with his findings, but he persuades them to fund another expedition and then another much to the consternation of Nina, who wants her life to be more than staying home and birthing babies.

    The story unfolds in Gray’s characteristic measured and deliberate style, which less patient viewers may find problematic, but that considered approach allows the threads and textures of the narrative to insinuate themselves into the system. Gray’s direction and Hunnam’s excellent performance combine to fully convey Percy’s drive and determination. There’s something almost beatific in Percy’s being as he sails down the river or hikes into the jungle or encounters the various natives. There’s curiosity and a sense of a higher purpose, but also an unshakeable belief that no genuine harm will come upon him even amidst the surrounding dangers.

    Beautifully lensed by Darius Khondji, The Lost City of Z falls in line with Gray’s leanings towards the rhythms and styles of old-fashioned filmmaking, specifically from the Seventies. In addition to Apocalypse Now and Aguirre, the Wrath of God, one can recognise Lawrence of Arabia and McCabe and Mrs. Miller in The Lost City of Z’s DNA. Though Gray doesn’t quite achieve the same level of transcendent profundity that suffused his previous work, The Immigrant, he has nevertheless created a sublime ode to a man journeying to fulfill his destiny.

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