[Screen It]

"THE LOST CITY OF Z"
(2017) (Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: In the early 20th century, British explorer Percy Fawcett finds evidence of a previously unknown, ancient civilization while mapping then-uncharted Bolivia. It becomes his life's obsession.
PLOT:
Percy Fawcett (CHARLIE HUNNAM) is a British military officer at the turn of the 20th century, still living down the shame of an alcoholic father. He craves promotion and social status to give his wife, Nina (SIENNA MILLER), and their children a better life. So, he accepts an assignment from the Royal Geographic Society under the leadership of Sir George Goldie (IAN McDIARMID) to venture to South America and map the then-uncharted country of Bolivia.

Along for the ride is his faithful aide-de-camp, Henry Costin (ROBERT PATTINSON). The journey and subsequent trek through the Amazon jungle is treacherous and takes him away from Nina for nearly two years. But near the end of his adventure, Percy finds what he believes is proof of an ancient and surprisingly advanced civilization that he comes to call The Lost City of Z. Back in England, his findings are laughed at by the members of the Society, who hold to the notion that the jungles of Amazonia are filled only with savages and primitives.

Percy vows to return to the continent and find definitive proof, this time with a Society member named James Murray (ANGUS MACFADYEN) funding the trip. But the out-of-shape and weak-willed Murray proves more of a liability than an asset and ends up scuttling the whole expedition. Then, World War I hits and Percy, Costin, and his contemporaries are compelled to fight for England. Years after the war, Percy returns to Bolivia with his grown son, Jack (TOM HOLLAND), for perhaps one final attempt to find the fabled city.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
It's surprising nobody in Hollywood or even Britain's movie industry has not done a Percy Fawcett movie until now. After all, the British explorer and his pre- and post-World War I exploits in the Amazon jungle not only became real legend in the decades since, they also clearly inspired the big-screen, "fortune and glory" adventures and misadventures of Indiana Jones. Fawcett, himself, I would imagine was probably familiar with author H. Rider Haggard's great fictional adventurer Allan Quatermain as he looked to find and plunder King Solomon's Mines and more.

But Fawcett was the real deal, and he really and truly believed he found evidence of an ancient, advanced civilization while mapping then-uncharted Bolivia that pre-dated anything the white aristocracy of Mother England were willing to acknowledge in his time. He began to believe in a lost city of gold, and that became his mission and eventually his obsession to find it. No matter what life threw at him -- marriage, fatherhood to three kids, World War I service -- Percy never stopped yearning to get back to Amazonia.

"The Lost City of City," written and directed by James Gray, is a remarkable adventure movie, shot traditional-style on 35 mm film and performed by a group of actors who really do look plucked out of time. Yes, folks, even Robert Pattinson -- that sparkly, dreamy bloodsucker from the "Twilight" movies -- acquits himself well here as Percy's introverted, but fiercely loyal aide-de-camp. Sienna Miller also works wonders with her long-suffering wife role, proving that behind every great man who leaves his family for months and years at a time there's an even greater woman back at the hearth keeping the home fires burning.

Charlie Hunnam plays Percy, and it's a role originally slated for Brad Pitt (who was a producer on this). You can clearly see what Pitt would have done in the role, getting all furry on the face and smudgy with jungle and battlefield grime. You can also see elements of what Heath Ledger might have done with this part had he still been alive and offered the role. But Hunnam is impressive in showing the steady page turns of the life of an explorer who starts off brash and full of ego to a man humbled by war and becoming intimate with exotic cultures most of his contemporaries dismiss as jungle savagery.

My one big gripe with the film is that it tries to make Percy Fawcett too perfect. In some scenes, he has the progressive mindset and views of a bullhorn-wielding Trump protestor circa 2017, calling to task a white establishment and church hierarchy that feels a bit too modern compared to the rest of the picture. The guy, meanwhile, almost always is right. An opening hunt sequence (thrilling in its editing and cinematography) has Percy as the only member of the hunting party breaking off from the pack, braving uncleared land, and getting the best shot at a fleeing buck. Once in the jungle, natives' arrows veer away from, and he contracts none of the diseases or rashes as the other men. Sure, he buys four slaves to help out on his first expedition. But he treats them just as well as his white companions. He almost never shows any fear.

The moments where "The Lost City of Z" really comes alive is when Fawcett is truly challenged, tested. I wanted to see more of the man's ego and single-minded drive that was known to push boundaries and re-imagine borders but would often lead to men getting killed and longer and longer stretches of time away from family. Hunnam is exceptional in depicting the man's drive. I just wanted to see a bit more of his beautiful madness. Imagine a crazy-eyed Mel Gibson circa mid-1990s in this part. Imagine a Heath Ledger.

It's not a killing flaw, though. Hunnam is a bona fide lead here and not just a poor man's Pitt or Matt Damon. And the rest of the film -- from the locations and cinematography to the writing and performances (Ian McDiarmid himself gives Percy his marching orders -- yeah, The Emperor!) -- is all there. And Gray expertly moves from high-class costume drama to jungle adventure trekking to grim war film, and he ends this film with one final image that is among the most haunting of any film I've seen in recent memory. A very enthusiastic recommend on this, folks! I give it a 7.5 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed April 26, 2017 / Posted April 27, 2017


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