The Lost City of Z

 

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An epic tale concerning exploration in Bolivia taken from real life.

 
Lost City of Z

Tom Holland and Charlie Hunnam

 

James Gray is a talented writer/director whose work seemed to be rooted in American urban life as witness such films as Little Odessa (1994), The Yards (2000) and We Own the Night (2007). It comes as a distinct surprise to find that his latest work, The Lost City of Z, is a British-based epic piece about the life of Colonel Percy Fawcett.  Fawcett, who was born in 1867, was an artillery officer in the First World War who would be remembered as an archaeologist and explorer. The film's title may sound fanciful - it could even suggest a fantastical adventure tale - but Fawcett really did open up uncharted parts of Bolivia in the early years of the 20th century and returned there after the war in 1925 intent on confirming the existence of an ancient city which, after reading of it earlier in an old document, he had indeed designated as 'Z'.

 

Recently Gold dealt in part with explorations upriver in Indonesia and brought to mind Werner Herzog's Fitzcarraldo (1982), but only half of it was devoted to that. In contrast, despite footage dealing with Fawcett's life in England as a husband and father and one episode illustrating his wartime experiences, The Lost City of Z is primarily set in South America (the location shooting was done in Colombia). Unfamiliar as this territory is in all respects for Gray, he handles it very competently and, if his film too invokes the work of Herzog, the classic movie that most comes to mind here given the dangers that the explorers face from the natives is Aguirre, Wrath of God (1972).

 

That comparison is one that underlines the contrast between Klaus Kinski's portrait of an obsessed adventurer and this film's portrayal of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). We are told that he was ambitious in his younger days not only to rise in rank but to redeem the family name besmirched by his father's behaviour as a drinker and gambler. This gives some motivation for his actions which would lead him to seek fame abroad at the cost of being an absent father causing dismay to his wife (Sienna Miller) and, in particular, to his oldest son Jack who is played in the later scenes by Tom Holland. The actors do well enough but, while the film holds us throughout its 141 minutes, there is a feeling that the screenplay doesn't get fully to grips with these driving forces and the cost of them not just to his family but to Fawcett himself.

 

To brand this film as superficial would be unfair, but a touch of sentimentality at the close adds to the sense that a deeper, more emotional impact would have been possible. But it is all highly watchable and Gray doesn't go astray in handling English characterisations - indeed had this film been made years ago one can imagine that the roles played by Ian McDiarmid and Clive Francis as representatives of the Royal Geographical Society of London might well have been taken by Sir John Gielgud and Maurice Denham!

 

MANSEL STIMPSON

 

Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Clive Francis, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero, Edward Ashley, Daniel Huttlestone, Murray Melvin.

 

Dir James Gray, Pro Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Anthony Katagas and James Gray, Screenplay James Gray, based on the book by David Grann from an article in the New Yorker magazine, Ph Darius Khondji, Pro Des Jean-Vincent Puzos, Ed John Axelrad and Lee Haugen, Music Christopher Spelman, Costumes Sonia Grande.

 

Amazon Studios/Plan B Entertainment/Keep Your Head/MadRiver Pictures/Sierra Pictures-StudioCanal.
141 mins. USA/UK. 2016. Rel: 24 March 2017. Cert. 15.