Film: “The Lost City of Z”; Director: James Gray; Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Edward Ashley, Clive Francis, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero, Matthew Sunderland, Johann Myers, Daniel Huttlestone and Harry Melling; Rating: **1/2
A biopic based on an eponymous book by David Grann, “The Lost City of Z” — directed by James Gray — is a slow-paced epic adventure, an obsession of an explorer from Ireland who sets out to find a city allegedly made of gold deep in the wilderness of the Amazon basin.
The narrative begins in 1905, in Cork, Ireland, where an undecorated major of the Royal Army, Percival Fawcett, portrayed by Charlie Hunnam, indulges in a successful deer hunt, only to be reminded that he comes from a weak stock. Hence, he is coerced into accepting the Royal Geographical Society’s map-making expedition along the disputed border between Brazil and Bolivia.
Fawcett leaves behind his wife Nina, played by the terrific Sienna Miller, and their newborn son Jack for years. He is joined by a crew that includes an almost unrecognisable and wonderfully understated Robert Pattinson as his co-researcher and aide-de-camp Henry Costin.
Their trip, through unchartered territory, proves harrowing when they are accosted by rough weather, terrain and savage tribes. But it is when they find some remains of a habitation, which includes pieces of pottery and idols strewn about, Fawcett is charged with hope and excitement to find the once-prosperous and now extinct city that he names “Z”, after the last alphabet in the English lexicon.
He returns to Ireland, to convince his fellow countrymen that the wilderness as a metaphor can be glimpsed but never charted. He gets obsessed about proving to the “white world” that the inhabitants of the Amazon are a wise race, instead of the stereotypical savages his fellow countrymen would have the world believe. So he insists on going back to the Amazon, time and again, to find that elusive city and prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925.
This film is Charlie Hunnam’s canvas. He is sincere and commanding, as he brings to the fore with natural ease the passion of Percival Fawett. He is aptly supported by Miller and Tom Holland as his resentful son Jack, who accompanies him on his last trip.
The screenplay, drafted by James Gray, builds Fawcett’s arc, though disjointed, with painful precision of an epically-scaled tale in classic filmmaking style. While the journeys to the Amazon are projected perfunctorily, Gray seems more interested in Fawcett’s internal journey. This is evident when he says to his son, “We are all made of the same clay,” and “Nothing will happen to us. It is not our destiny.”
Apart from this, the screenplay is a collage of people, places and events set in an era that seems foreign despite having existed only a century ago. Historical inaccuracies aside, the film provides an uneven but compelling portrait of one of the last members of a dying breed (explorers).
With strong production values, the film visually seems to be inspired by films of the genre. It is with the wide-angled lens that cinematographer Darius Khondji skilfully captures terra-firma and the emotions of the characters. It is the jungle scenes in particular that are intense and immersive.
Overall, the film is skilfully and sensitively handled but does not move you emotionally.
By Troy Ribeiro