OP-ROB RATING: BENCH
“The Lost City of Z” opens in the green pastures of Ireland, where a young man named Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is stationed with the Royal War Office. Fawcett is a sharp and capable soldier, yet he fails to gain advancement because of his father’s reputation as a gambler and a drunk. Fawcett’s fortune’s rise when he receives a surveying appointment from the Royal Geographical Society that could restore his family name. The task is to discover the source of the Rio Verde in Amazonia (modern day Bolivia/Brazil). Fawcett accepts the lengthy challenge, leaving behind his pregnant wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and toddler Jack (Tom Mulheron). On the journey Fawcett is accompanied by a crew, including Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), a gruff and experienced surveyor. The rigors of Amazonia prove to be extremely precarious. For example, while rafting up river the crew is periodically attacked by bow-and-arrow wielding natives who linger behind bushes on the banks of the Rio Verde. In one instance a man is shot and falls into the river to be mauled by piranhas. Despite the dangers, Fawcett and Costin succeed in their mission to discover the source of the Rio Verde, mostly thanks to a knowledgeable native guide. Over the course of the trip the guide mumbles a few things to Fawcett regarding a once-great city deep in the jungle. Fawcett shrugs off the comments until, at the source of the river, he finds several pieces of pottery and some engravings on trees.
Upon returning home Fawcett is hailed as a hero and the foremost explorer in Britain. With his family name restored, Fawcett has the ability to live his life uninhibited. However, throughout the rest of the film he returns to Amazonia two more times, with a stint in World War I in between. The reason for his subsequent explorations is a fascination with finding the lost city the native guide spoke of. Fawcett becomes more and more obsessed with finding the city he refers to as “Z”. His British peers sneer and scoff at the idea of a great city buried in the jungle, and there are more than a few scenes in which Fawcett urges his compatriots not to underestimate the “savages”.
As a film, "The List City of Z" is undeniably well done. Hunnam is believably resolute as Percy Fawcett for most of the film. His choppy, assured early 20th century British dialogue is executed consistently. However, as Fawcett's delusions become clearer Hunnam tends to oversell it. Sienna Miller is more impressive as Nina. Her scorn of the search for Z slowly evolves into reluctant approval. By the end of the film she is equally as invested as her husband, who has been mostly absent because of his quest for glory. As the signs build up that Fawcett's mission is far-fetched, and destructive to his family, we never question the conviction of the main characters motivations. For the most part we believe that they believe.
The cinematography is equally as steady and authentic. Throughout the film the camera just glides along the intriguing landscapes of Ireland, Britain, and Amazonia. The camera’s omniscience doesn’t lead to any surprises or shaky shots. One could argue the technique is simple, crisp, and unassuming. However, I have a feeling the camerawork is meant to add to the impending sense that Fawcett’s mission is doomed. His ultimate fate is as certain from the opening scene to the final credits. What is equally interesting is how the matter-of-factness of the film contrasts with Fawcett’s growing delusion about finding the lost city. On the second exploration in Amazonia, Fawcett and Costin are invited to hang out with a tribe of cannibals. While in their village, Fawcett spots a small patch of cultivated land. Upon seeing it, Fawcett points it out to Costin and exclaims that this agricultural feat must mean that Z exists! After Fawcett shuffles away there is a split second in which Costin turns to the camera and stares blankly, expressing his and the audiences skepticism.
Unfortunately, as the film drags on and Fawcett grows more obsessed with the vanished city, the subtleties that made the scene with Costin so effective also vanish. On Fawcett’s final expedition to Amazonia he brings Jack (Tom Holland) who has now grown up. In one of the final scenes the two are taken hostage by group of natives. As the captors discuss what to do with them, Fawcett tells his son that, “whatever happens, it is our destiny.” With your eldest son’s head so close to the literal chopping block, one wishes that Fawcett could have come up with some better words.
“The Lost City of Z” amounts to a well made, yet ultimately fruitless adventure. The most significant aspect of the film are Fawcett’s motivations and the effect they have on his family and friends. There are much better movies, such as “There Will Be Blood”, that explore the same kind destructiveness that can be caused by unbridled ambition. Perhaps it is fitting that the final impression of the “The Lost City of Z” coincides with Fawcett’s own expedition. A few screen titles at the end of the film tell us that Fawcett disappeared along with Jack on that final expedition, and a lost city of Z was never found. In the end, “The Lost City of Z” is an overdrawn film that never really hits a full stride. On a rainy spring day, moviegoers would be wise to explore elsewhere.