‘The Lost City of Z’ is an Engrossing Adventure
I thought about writing a review for this week’s major release, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword. The film stars Charlie Hunnam and despite putrid reviews, the epic looks mildly entertaining thanks to director Guy Ritchie’s unique visual style.
But instead I’m going to focus on another Hunnam-led film in theaters, The Lost City of Z. Written and directed by James Gray, the film tells the true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who at the dawn of the 20th century discovered evidence of an unknown and advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region.
Despite being mocked by his peers who regard indigenous people as nothing more than uneducated “savages,” Fawcett is determined to prove them wrong after many trips to the Amazon.
If the birth of Hunnam becoming a movie star is in 2017, it won’t be because of King Arthur, it will be because of The Lost City of Z. Having only seen him in Pacific Rim and Crimson Peak (And Undeclared way back in the day), I’ve never been impressed with his work. He’s always been nothing more than a pretty face with a tinge of bad boy. He also has one of those accents that seems fake in real life.
But to say Hunnam is a revelation in Lost City would be an understatement. From the moment he appears in the opening scene, which symbolizes the entire film, Hunnam commands the screen with bravura and poise.
Despite being an accomplished and respected soldier in the British Army, the Fawcett name isn’t exactly well known. “He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors,” says one man. At a time when legacy is so important, Fawcett aspires to establish that lineage by forging his own path.
And that path is a treacherous one. His first journey up river leads to a death in his group and the remaining men nearly starve to death. But the trip isn’t a complete loss as Fawcett discovers ancient pottery and shards of other evidence that lead him to believe of a history yet to be uncovered.
In his address to the people upon his return, Fawcett’s discovery and newfound beliefs are met with ridicule. It is in this scene that Hunnam truly shines. His gravitas, charisma and even humor overtakes a hoard of naysayers and convinces a select few to continue exploring uncharted land.
It’s this moment where the film turns into a story about obsession. The jungle has grabbed hold of him and despite a wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and children back home, he yearns to return to discover a golden city known as “Z.”
In perhaps another film, the wife would be nothing more than an obstacle in Fawcett’s way. But instead Gray has written a fully three-dimensional female character with her own beliefs and dreams. Some of the most compelling scenes in the film involve Percy and Nina arguing about his time away from the family and her desire to go with him. Miller has limited screen time but she makes the most of every second on screen.
Visually, Lost City is absolutely engrossing. Cinematographer Darius Khondji takes full advantage of the locations to convey both wonderment in Northern Ireland and fear of the unknown in the Colombian jungle.
At 2 hours and 20 minutes, Lost City never feels long thanks to Gray’s layered and heavily-researched script. Although it lacks the exciting set pieces of a Raiders of the Lost Arc, It’s a confidently-made film.
With shades of Malick, Coppola and Herzog, Gray has crafted a beautiful and measured adventure that journeys into not only the heart of Amazonian darkness, but also one man’s spirit, obsession and sometimes reckless nature.
The Lost City of Z is in theaters now.