Director: James Gray
Written by: James Gray based on “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon” by David Green
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Johann Myers
Opens: April 14, 2017
There’s a difference between a tourist and a traveler. A tourist wants to have a good time, usually by going to safe places like Canada and staying in good hotels. A traveler is someone like chef Anthony Bourdain from CNN going to remote places, taking eighteen-hour bus rides with goats, pigs and ducks, heading off the beaten track with a backpack loaded with mosquito repellent and hydroxychloroquine. Often travelers have obsessions, something compelling their wanderlust as in the case of the noted explorer Colonel Percy Fawcett. Fawcett, who is played by Charlie Hunnam, is a British major stationed in Cork, Ireland, when we meet him in James Gray’s “The Lost City of Z,” his exploratory career covered by David Green in his book “The Lost City of Z: A Tale of deadly Obsession in the Amazon.” While his travels are a major element of the film, giving us a view of life in Amazonia among people who do not dress the way we do here in New York, Gray like Green, is intent on digging into the character of the man to find the source of his obsession.
The best we can figure is that Fawcett, living in British society where status and reputation count for more than they do in the U.S. today—especially during the first quarter of the 20th Century—is compelled to absolve himself from the guilt of being the son of a man who is a gambler and a drunk. Reputation is everything. Though married and ultimately the father of three, he seems willing to risk alienating his growing family by not one or two, but three sojourns into the heart of darkness.
The assignment is made by the Royal Geographic Society in London where he is assigned to travel across the Atlantic to help Bolivia and Brazil settle a boundary dispute between the two South American countries. Fawcett prefers action, such as the kind he takes at the beginning of the cinematic journey when he competes with several horsemen in chasing a deer and has the (dubious) honor of being the one responsible for the kill.
Picking Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson—unrecognizable with a beard, glasses, and safai hat) and with a few assistants and one slave (Johann Myers), he learns of a lost city, one that no white man has ever seen. The deerslayer is intrigued, and on the first of his trips he fields a barrage of arrows from Indians who may well know the fate of their ancestors when Spanish and Portuguese explorers invaded their turf.
He survives, and goes back.
He goes back again, but first leads a group of fellow Brits in the miserable trench warfare that resulted from the assassination of the Austrian Archduke. He goes back notwithstanding—or perhaps because he was hooted down when speaking before the Royal Geographical Society, whose seated members call the South American natives “savages” who could not possibly have carved out a civilization centuries ago superior to that in England, which, after all, invented fish and chips. He goes back even after his wife (Sienna Miller) delivers a feminist view that women should be able to explore jungles just like men. And he goes back after his son Jack (Tom Holland) begs to travel with him, and that’s the Jack who years before (Tom Mulheron) gave Percy hell for abandoning his responsibilities to family.
Percy Fawcett comes across as a man who you would more likely respect and admire than like and feel warm toward, and so is this movie. Aside from that terrific opener involving horses jumping and tumbling in their (ridiculous) contest to kill a deer, there is a Masterpiece Theater aura and a National Geographic journey-of-they-year quality to the doings, even granting the exoticism of white men being hosted by natives, who may have been friendly toward Percy and Jack more because they are at continual warfare with another group of natives in the jungle.
In the epilogue we find out that a later expedition does find evidence of a civilization that existed between 200 A.D. and 1600 A.D. that knew how to make the soil fertile for crops, to build roads and bridges, and to have an infrastructure that President Trump might envy. The big mystery is the whereabouts of the two Fawcetts who disappeared, never to be found, though a clue is given as to what may have become of them.
Rated PG-13. 140 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B-
Acting – B+
Technical – B+
Overall – B