“The Lost City of Z” is a beautiful find. Though the ambitious expedition is not without some misdirection, it’s a discovery worth making.
Set in the early 20th century, “The Lost City of Z” follows the true story of Captain Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) in his quest to bring honor to his family name. The British officer is given that chance when the Royal Geographical Society calls on him to settle a boundary dispute between Bolivia and Brazil. He obliges, leaving behind his infant son and wife, Nina (Sienna Miller).
But Fawcett is not alone for long, as he’s joined by Corporal Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), whose single status makes him the ideal mate for a quest that requires complete commitment—even though it’s one to which the British government can’t even bind itself. Although Fawcett and Costin are advised to turn back upon their arrival in Brazil, they demur, choosing to forge—or rather float—ahead into the Amazon.
It’s a treacherous, but gorgeous, trek. Director James Gray has crafted an aspiring film both for its sights—reminiscent of Terrence Malick’s expeditionary “New World” and admonitory “Thin Red Line”—and story—one of duty, before, during, and after World War I, akin to Steven Spielberg’s “War Horse.”
But in its attempt to be so grand, at times “The Lost City of Z” also proves to be just a little bland. And that’s because Fawcett and his story are spread too thin. It’s not surprising the film was adapted from a book, in that the plot is promising but key points are left as gaunt as the explorers at the end of their trip. The two-and-a-half-hour film actually could have afforded another 30 minutes to give Fawcett an even stronger attachment to his Amazon. Indeed, “Z” should have taken Fawcett’s approach: Go big or go home.
Thankfully, its actors do. “Son of Anarchy” Hunnam is at his best as a father conflicted between fortune and family, particularly his wife and eldest son (Tom Holland). Pattinson proves that, though a beard might hide his “Twilight” attractor notoriety, he certainly has the acting chops for award-worthy films (that is, those not in the Razzie category). And Miller delivers as the supportive, but stranded, wife, similar to her emotional endurance on display in “American Sniper.”
In them you see the strain of Fawcett’s search and the toll it and time take. The same can be said for the production crew. Their film faced delays after Brad Pitt dropped out of the role later taken by Hunnam (though Pitt stayed on as a producer). And Hunnam found Fawcett only after Benedict Cumberbatch (“Star Trek Into Darkness”) also left him. Only then were Hunnam and others able to fight the heat, fever, and creatures in Gray’s Columbia-jungle shoot.
But like their Amazonian adventurers, Gray, cast, and crew endured. And from their makeup and costumes to cinematography, story, and score, they crafted a pretty piece of period film.
Their zeal is what made “The Lost City of Z.”
4 out of 5