Film Review – The Lost City Of Z (2017)

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Charlie Hunnam stars as real-life British explorer Percy Fawcett in this enjoyable yet unsettling tale of adventure and obsession.

Based on the writings of author David Grann (in his book of the same name) and directed by James Gray (We Own the Night, 2007, The Immigrant, 2013), The Lost City of Z tells the story of Fawcett’s adventures into the then uncharted Amazonian jungle in search of a lost city/civilization which he called ‘Z’, it has also been referred to as ‘El Dorado’. The real-life story of Fawcett is a fascinating one, he fought with distinction in World War One, and subsequently led several expeditions into the Amazon in search of this ‘lost city’, eventually disappearing on his final expedition in 1925, never-to-be-seen-again.

Gray’s unnerving and skilfully directed adaptation is intriguing; it plays out like a much more grounded, much darker Indiana Jones film, (Fawcett himself is perhaps a big influence on Spielberg’s original character, he is also strangely enough credited as a key influence for antagonist Charles Muntz in Disney Pixar’s Up). One scene, in particular, stands out where Fawcett is being chased by indigenous tribes through a grassy opening in the jungle, a scene that has clear parallels to the iconic opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark. However, Z does not possess the same playful tone that Indiana Jones carries, the same upbeat, lukewarm conclusion where Indy saves the day and gets the girl. Fawcett’s journey seems doomed from the start, the lost city he seeks seems forever just out of his reach.

Set to the backdrop of the latter stages of the Industrial Revolution, the film revolves around this constant tension between the jungle (old, traditionalism/tribalism) and the city (new, modernity) as Fawcett is torn between his jungle obsession and his home life. He finds peace and tranquillity in the simple life of the indigenous tribes he encounters, far away from his naïve, snobbish colleagues back in London who mock his admiration for the ‘savages’, and far away from the horrors and trauma of WW1. The two fulcrums of which this tension lies upon finally collapse into each other in the film’s conclusion, where Fawcett’s two separate lives collide as he disappears into the unknown.

Charlie Hunnam offers a sturdy presence as Fawcett; he is calm and assertive in his actions, even if his seemingly overtly British accent is a little annoying at times. Hunnam has come leaps and bounds in the last few years, and is rapidly becoming a huge international star (he is set to star in Guy Ritchie’s upcoming King Arthur film), who’d have thought that Pete Dunham from Green Street would come so far? Sienna Miller and nu-Spiderman Tom Holland support alongside Hunnam as Fawcett’s stay-at-home wife and eldest son Jack respectively. Whilst Robert Pattinson offers a surprisingly interesting and understated performance as Fawcett’s faithful and immediately likeable companion, Costin.

Z seems to be almost the finished product; it’s an enjoyable film that does not possess any real, significant problems or issues, other than the occasional clunky, on-the-nose dialogue and perhaps slightly overly long length – it meanders a little too much between adventures. It is filled with nice cinematography, and decent performances, but lacks a cutting edge, one great performance, one great shot to elevate it to superfluous heights. The Lost City of Z is, however, true and respectful to its source material, and an alluring visual representation of suffocating obsession.

[rating=3] | Josh Hall

Adventure, Biography | USA, 2016 | 12A | 24th March 2017 (UK) | Studiocanal | Dir.James Gray | Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen