Beautifully shot and well-acted, The Lost City of Z retells the strange and sometimes terrible story of Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fawcett – British explorer and cartographer who disappeared in the Amazon in the 1920s.
Based on the book of the same name by David Grann, The Lost City of Z centers mostly on Percy Fawcett’s (Charlie Hunnam) obsession. This obsession, at first, lies in regaining his family honor in military service, something in which he had little luck, owing to the failures of his alcoholic father. Soon, however, the obsession shifts to something grander. Fawcett, a trained cartographer and a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, is sent to South America to map the deep jungle boarder between Brazil and Bolivia.
During his first expedition, Fawcett meets up with his aide-de-camp Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and local representative Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley) with whom he forms a deep bond. It is on this expedition, that the spark of Fawcett’s obsession begins to shift when he finds evidence of an ancient city deep in the heart of the Amazon.
Despite barely making back to civilization alive, Fawcett makes many additional expeditions – some incredibly ill-fated – into the Amazon in search of the lost city he calls “Z” (with the British “Zed” pronunciation, of course). As his obsession grows, he soon pulls others along with him, eventually even including his eldest son Jack (Tom Holland), who accompanies his father on his final expedition.
While The Lost City of Z is beautiful, which disguises none of the beauty of the Amazon rainforest, nor does it pull back on the terrible dangers, the film itself meanders narratively. There are large jumps in time that are indicated by little more than changing fashion and aging makeup, and the pace of the story is slowed by constantly shifting focuses.
The most problematic, is the fact that Fawcett is hard to root for as he chases his lost city at the cost of human lives and his own family. There are points where the film could easily humanize him, and yet we feel little sympathy or empathy, knowing that his motivations are almost entirely selfish. While this makes him a believable person, it makes him a problematic protagonist.
One of the places that the film gets very right is hinting at the fate of its explorer without devolving into fantastical speculation. It would have been incredibly easy for the film to go for a “happy ending,” they instead present that we simply don’t know what happened to Fawcett’s final expedition.
Despite its issues, and while it definitely isn’t for everyone, The Lost City of Z is an interesting look at one of the biggest mysteries from the age of British exploration.
Rated: PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity
Directed by: James Gray
Written by: James Gray
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Edward Ashley, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid
Release Date: April 14, 2017
Runtime: 2h 21min
Post-Credits Scene? No