“The city is there, and we will find it”, bellows Percy Fawcett to members of the Royal Geographical Society, drawing ire and bemusement all around. If only it was that simple, Percy. This theme of conflict is present throughout James Gray’s adventure biopic, The Lost City of Z, whether that be in the form of man versus nature or the battle between Percy and his own son.
Charlie Hunnam plays our hero, hopping into Amazonia to initially mark the border between Brazil and Bolivia. He enlists the help of Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), whose understated demeanour goes in tandem with Fawcett’s brash personality. After discovering some pottery, the pair believe they have stumbled upon on an ancient, lost city.
Pattinson shines, and I couldn’t help but think that the film would be better off for dedicating more time to his character. It is a much more introspective film than its marketing campaign would lead you to believe, with a significant focus on the lead character’s struggles to reconnect with his family.
The film starts slowly, with mawkish scenes involving Fawcett and his wife Nina, played admirably by Sienna Miller in a largely thankless role. The scenes in England, which are fairly frequent, highlight the limitations of Hunnam as an actor – he’s never convincing as a man who feels lost in his own home.
Hunnam, much like the film itself, is far more comfortable in the jungle. Despite never quite getting the sense that their journey is as arduous as it should be, the action tends to focus on the conflict within the group, and the interaction with the natives. There is always a lingering fear that something is about to kick off, and despite not being action-packed, these scenes are well done and undoubtedly the best aspect of the film.
After an exceedingly strong middle act, a completely unnecessary World War One scene almost stops the film dead in its tracks: thankfully, the last act manages to recover some momentum. Despite a contrived emotional arc – Fawcett’s eldest son (Tom Holland) holds a grudge against him for his entire life before resolving the matter in seconds – the end is reasonably satisfying in its understatement and subtlety.
The score and lush cinematography evoke the feel of a classic adventure serial, and the film really does excel in this regard, but this is unfortunately negated by too much backstory on a somewhat uninteresting character. The combination of classical and contemporary cinema makes for an interesting watch but the audience, much like its main character, is yearning for more time in the jungle.