‘The Lost City of Z’ is like no other film playing in theaters right now. It harkens back to an earlier time in Hollywood. It is a story about a real-life “Indiana Jones” adventurer. Before space exploration, there were uncharted exotic lands across the globe. Based on the non-fiction book by David Grann, it follows British explorer Percy Fawcett through his expeditions into the Amazon jungle while searching for an ancient lost city. Charlie Hunnam plays the lead role and delivers one of his best performances to date. Writer-director James Gray (The Immigrant) along with cinematographer Darius Khondji (Midnight in Paris) have created stunning images on the big screen. It feels so real you want to swat at mosquitoes and dodge arrows shot from the riverbanks. ‘The Lost City of Z’ is a spell-binding adventure worth taking at your local arthouse cinema.
Percy Fawcett is an excellent British Army Officer at the turn of the 20th century. He’s successful but falls short of the British “upper class.” One superior comments, “He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors.” His father’s Army career was ruined from consuming too much alcohol. He seems to have a good life. He’s married to his beautiful wife, Nina (Sienna Miller) and has a young son Jack (played later by the new Spider-man Tom Holland). It’s as if Fawcett is in limbo. There is something missing in his life. He desperately wants to prove himself to be a respectable Englishman. When the Royal Geographical Society asks Fawcett to go to Bolivia to chart the border with Brazil, he takes on the dangerous mission with a renewed sense of purpose. This is his chance to redeem the family name. It’s a big sacrifice leaving his pregnant wife behind but she understands why he must go on this expedition.
It’s exciting to watch Fawcett go on the first expedition in 1906. He’s accompanied by a loyal aide-de-camp, Henry Costin (played by an almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson). Together they brave the sweltering heat, hostile South American tribes and wild jungle creatures. In one tense sequence, dozens of arrows fly toward their raft. When Fawcett sings ‘Soldiers of the Queen,’ it pacifies the Indians. Soon after, they are invited to the tribe’s encampment for dinner. This is where he hears about the lost city and fragments of ancient pottery that indicates evidence to an advance civilization that Fawcett dubs “Z”, pronounced “Zed” by the Brits. They have to turn back before discovering the lost city but when he returns to England, he is honored as a hero. He gives an impressive speech to the Royal Geographical Society and holds up the pottery to his colleagues. When he suggests there is proof of an advanced culture that predates England, they heckle at him and dismiss the Amazonian tribes as “Savages.”
Fawcett ventures into the jungle more than once. He never knows if he will encounter friendly or hostile tribes. Some of the indigenous people even practice cannibalism. Fawcett loves his family but something lures him back to his obsession of finding the lost city. The reason it works so well is that his story is the perfect hero’s journey. Fawcett goes on two more expeditions into the jungle. He is accompanied by his son Jack (played by Holland) on his last attempt to find “Z.” It’s bittersweet because it’s the only way that Jack can get closer to his father. The final journey is ill-fated and takes on a supernatural vibe similar to classics like ‘Apocalypse Now.’ As they are surrounded by a hostile tribe, he turns to his son and says, “Be brave. Nothing will happen to us that is not our destiny.” Cinematographer Khonji’s use of man-made fire to light the final scenes are spectacular.
‘The Lost City of Z’ is not just about finding a lost city. It’s also about a man finding himself. His true calling was to prove to his contemporaries that advanced cultures existed in the Amazon not to be conquered by guns but to be admired and respected. ‘The Lost City of Z’ is a classic adventure that pulls you into a real-life hero’s epic journey.