By Casey Campbell
Encased in the Amazon jungle of South America, Percy Fawcett and company are on the search for something special, something that their contemporaries shrugged off as fantasy: The Lost City of Z. Finding the traces of a lost civilization, when the consensus was that South America was full of savages, would have turned the mindset of the early 20th century on it’s head. The film, slow and steady in its execution, is no period action piece. Rather, it sets itself apart as a character study on addiction, with the jungle as a backdrop.
Writer/director James Gray took the source material, an in-depth historical novel from David Grann about the very real Percy Fawcett, and maintained focus and integrity in his adaptation. Charlie Hunnam leads the cast as the explorer Fawcett, showing real strength in the role, as the character goes through several strikingly different times in his life (including a riveting war scene).
Fawcett was living with his wife in England when he was invited by the Royal Geographical Society on an expedition to survey and explore the wild and never before seen lands between Bolivia and Brazil. Like his father before him, Fawcett left his wife and young son in England. While under different circumstances (alcohol vs. exploration), the addiction is hinted at early on, as well as disruption of their family.
During his first mission, Percy becomes entangled in his obsession with the jungle, and his search for the Lost City of Z. Stumbling upon some pottery in the middle of the jungle acts as the catalyst for his unceasing obsession, driving him from his family and back into the wilds again and again. Gray’s script plays with motivation in great ways, utilizing Fawcett’s fallen family name (from his drunkard father) as another driving force to make something of himself. Yet, in doing so, he only retreads the same path his father did before him.
You don’t see Fawcett with his family very much, which plays up their dysfunctional dynamic and crafts some great drama whenever they do end up together. One stand out scene involved his young son Jack, played by Tom Holland, becoming increasingly more upset with his father for leaving once again. It is heartbreaking, as you understood where Jack was coming from, yet conflicting, because Percy’s character was so well developed.
Sienna Miller is captivating as Nina Fawcett, the wife of Percy, who put the dreams of her husband over her dreams of normalcy for their family. This paradox was captured by way of emotion and bolstered the film opposite Percy’s own adventures.
A good portion of the movie takes place in the jungle, as Percy takes a few different trips throughout the runtime. Each foray was replete with rapidly buzzing mosquitos, infections, and a general sense of unknown danger. Fawcett’s right hand man Henry Costin, played by a bearded Robert Pattinson, even gets a nasty case of sores on his face, which look gruesome. The jungle, though gorgeously shot by Darius Khondji, looked anything but fun.
James Gray managed to take a historical novel and translate it to the screen in great fashion. It is the best way that a nonfiction novel could have been brought to film. Gray fleshes out the characters, and uses them as vehicles to progress the plot. Extraneous details from the novel were left out in favor of focusing on Percy Fawcett and his extraordinary drive. There are addictions, and there are dreams. Percy Fawcett was addicted to his dream.
Overall Grade: A
Buy here: The Lost City of Z