In 2005, the New Yorker magazine published a story by journalist David Grann that retraced the steps of English explorer Percy Fawcett, who mapped the uncharted depths of the Amazon in the early 20th century. The story was later expanded into a book, “The Lost City of Z,” and now a cinematic adaptation of Fawcett’s adventures has been brought to the screen by writer-director James Gray.
Charlie Hunnam stars as Fawcett, resplendent of mustache and swaggering of spirit. He’s a man with ambition beyond his humble circumstances.
To establish a good name for himself, Fawcett takes a position on a mapping expedition to Bolivia, in the realm of Amazonia, a word that he will come to utter with the utmost reverence, like a lost lover’s name. With his aide-de-camp Mr. Costin (Robert Pattinson), Fawcett bushwhacks through the thickest jungle, tangles with cannibalistic tribes, barely survives piranha feedings and develops a sort of addiction to the steamy, foreboding land.
Fawcett becomes convinced that there’s a lost ancient city to be found in Amazonia, a belief that sends him back again and again. It’s a belief scoffed at in the halls of the Royal Geographic Society, populated by pasty men in stuffed shirts who believe themselves superior to the primitive folk of the Amazon. But if anyone has a vested interest in disrupting hierarchies of power and equality, it’s Fawcett.
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The film is a luscious masterpiece of gold and green, from English meadows to untouched rainforest, from daytime kissed by gentle sunlight to nighttime aglow with torches. It’s so lushly textured, it’s as if you can reach out and touch the velvety layers of the image.
This is possibly Hunnam’s best performance to date. He perfectly embodies the vim, vigor and competitiveness of Fawcett; his thirst for discovery operating on a deep, soul-level need for tangible proof and recognition. He slides along a spectrum from arrogance to desperation.
Pattinson does fine character work as Mr. Costin, as does Tom Holland as Fawcett’s teen son, but the best supporting performance comes from Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s wife. She sacrifices her own independence for her family, and for his adventure. Through Miller’s riveting portrayal, “The Lost City of Z” etches a delicate picture underneath the colorful portrait of Fawcett — of the losses suffered at home in service of greater ambitions and fantastical dreams.
“The Lost City of Z”
Rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity. 2:21. Hamburg, Kentucky.