Percy Fawcett is a hard-working man but promotion eludes him due to his “unfortunate choice of ancestors.” This provides the desperate motivation in him agreeing on a mapping “adventure” deep in the Amazonian jungle. If disease doesn’t kill him, the hostile “savages” are likely to, but to restore his family name and support his family, off he goes…never to return.
I’m getting ahead of myself. Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunam) was a real British explorer who did get sent to the Amazon. While surveying there he believed he found a previously unknown, unfathomed advanced civilization. Back home he is ridiculed by his peers, but he’s obsessed, not just with a potentially huge discovery, but with proving himself. His fire is lit, his wife (Sienna Miller) supports him and his aide de camp (Robert Pattinson) enables him until one day he just disappears into the jungle.
Shooting a movie in an honest to blog jungle is difficult and uncomfortable. Director James Gray asked Francis Ford Coppola (who did the same for Apocalypse Now) for advice, and he was told “Don’t go”, which, incidentally, is the same thing Roger Corman told Coppola. Nobody listens, but it’s probably solid advice. If you do disregard it and trek to the steamiest of locations, make sure you don’t plan to film digitally. Gray was shooting 35mm thankfully, as the humidity shut down all the laptops and would have done the same to digital cameras. The actors and crew withstood and great deal of hardship – was it worth it?
The Lost City of Z (it’s pronounced Zed, you filthy Americans) has a meandering pace that reminds me of the epic adventure movies of 50 years ago or more. I can’t justify its runtime (141 minutes!) and I know exactly what I would have left on the cutting room floor, but I do love lots about the movie. I love the complexity that Hunam brings to the role. I love the subtlety and the refusal to exploit that Gray insists upon. I love the authenticity of the script, the honest portrayal of sacrifice, the bold ambition of the story. There aren’t exactly a lot of surprises to be had. It’s about finding oneself while literally losing oneself. But there’s a lot to enjoy along the way. The jungle itself plays a stunning role; tip of the old safari hat to cinematographer Darius Khondji who captured things no CGI could hope to emulate.