Lost City of Z is in the Cinema until Wed 10 May. Usher and regular contributor Ben Cherry reviewed the film.
Exploring the unknown has been the basis for many stories in cinema. From Sci-fi films such as Alien or Interstellar, to the action adventure Indiana Jones series. The Lost City of Z tells the story of real life explorer Percy Fawcett who is famous for his explorations into the Amazon jungle. He does bear some resemblance to Indiana Jones and can be seen as the inspiration behind that iconic character. In recent years this kind of old fashioned story telling hasn’t really been that successful with films like Tomb Raider being a poor imitation of what came before. Thankfully Lost City of Z has a fascinating true story behind it which it uses to its advantage.
Percy Fawcett (who interestingly I found out was born in Torquay!) started his first exploration to the Amazon in the early 20th Century. At first he goes to restore his family’s reputation as the discoveries could literally be world changing. What he finds out there in the jungle, amongst dangerous natives and flesh eating piranhas, is what he believes is evidence of a lost civilization that started far before the already ‘developed’ British society. This obsession of finding the lost city is what drives the film and what begins as a standard adventure story becomes something akin to Joseph Conrad’s novella Heart of Darkness.
Fawcett is played by Charlie Hunnam, who bears the weight of the narrative on his capable shoulders. He is in pretty much every scene and it is arguably the most challenging role he has had to date. He is very good in the role and is particularly strong when he is leading his team of men. His Fawcett is much more progressive than his peers and doesn’t believe he is any better than the natives he finds on his travels.
Despite the strong character that Hunnam plays perhaps more interestingly it is Robert Pattinson who steals the show from the main star. He plays the mysterious Henry Costin who accompanies Fawcett on a number of adventures. Pattinson is almost unrecognisable and is a very likeable presence. It is a shame that the film doesn’t explore his character further and that you don’t find out too much about him. Apart from Pattinson however, most of the other characters don’t get much of a look in. Sienna Miller plays Fawcett’s wife Nina who is desperate to join her husband in his adventures, but the restrictions put on women during the time period prevent her from going. Tom Holland does what he can as the eldest Fawcett son, but the character is slightly one dimensional.
The film is shot beautifully and there are many stunning images of the Amazon and the jungle wildlife. It is an old fashioned epic and harkens back to films like Bridge On the River Kwai, Raiders of the Lost Ark and primarily Apocalypse Now. With talks of going up river and people not returning, the film did remind me of the classic War film. Fawcett, like Martin Sheen’ Captain Willard becomes obsessed with the Jungle and can barely function when they are not amongst the wilderness.
It is a long film and is old fashioned in the sense that it takes its time to tell the story. This is one of Lost City of Z’s strongest aspects, each section of the narrative, be it when Fawcett is at home, or is in the jungle never feels rushed and each adventure feels just as significant as the other. The story is ultimately about obsession and for much of the film it is ambiguous as to whether this lost city really does exist. It raises several questions as to whether what Fawcett saw was indeed real and whether having to contend with the extreme elements of the Amazon would have clouded his thinking. He is constantly thinking of going back to the jungle and even sacrifices seeing his children grow up in order to fuel his obsession.
I didn’t know a lot about this film but I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed it. I found the story fascinating and I felt the film did justice to Fawcett’s story. It looks amazing and without spoiling too much there are some haunting moments that have stayed with me long after leaving the cinema. It is a fantastic tale of survival, adventure and one man’s obsession with the discovering the unknown.