Based on real events, James Gray returns to the silver screen with The Lost City of Z, a feature that on the surface appears like an epic adventurer piece – spanning across decades, with an ensemble cast, with a narrative that unfolds between 1920s England, and the depths of the Amazon. But in spite of the grandiosity of the story, and myriad of themes on offer, at its core this film is an intimate character study, lingering over the notion of obsession, finding a strand any viewer can resonate with, as we watch a man sacrifice his life at home, his marriage and relationship with his children, to pursue his dreams.
Col. Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is that very man, an explorer who journeys to the Amazon with a loyal team surrounding him, with nobody more dependable than Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) by his side. It’s here they encounter ‘Z’, a land entirely unknown to the Western world, and yet bearing signs that it was once the home of to an advanced civilisation. Returning home, spreading word of his findings to his wife Nina (Sienna Miller), while she, somewhat reluctantly, supports his endeavours, Percy has a more difficult time convincing his colleagues that what he saw was genuine, desperately pleading to be granted funds to return, this time hoping to come back with more concrete evidence. Needless to say, uncovering the exact whereabouts of Z will not be an easy task, but with his son Jack (Tom Holland) now on board, he hopes to finally prove the doubters wrong, and show the world that Z exists, and that the so-called savages who live in the jungle, are so much more than their derogatory title suggests them to be.
Though thriving in the notion of this man’s unwavering compulsion, The Lost City of Z will still appeal to the adventurer within us, as the scenes of the crew journeying through the jungle make for mesmerising cinema. There’s also a somewhat pertinent undercurrent to this piece, and important aspect – which is the way the Western world dehumanise those they do not understand. Part of the English reluctance to believe in Percy’s tales comes from the sheer lack of ability to entertain the idea that non-white people are capable of building a society for themselves, and this is a theme that runs through this piece, as Percy vies tirelessly to prove to the ignorant elders, that of course they can.
Initially the casting of Hunnam as a English explorer seemed misjudged, but it’s a role he encapsulates to perfection, in a career best turn for the actor. He’s matched at every turn by the ever-impressive Pattinson, while Miller continues to prove herself as one of the most underrated actresses in the business, with this miraculous ability to deviate so far away from herself, almost unrecognisable in every role she undertakes. But the selling point to this piece is the grainy, immersive aesthetic, shot on film and harking back to the likes of Apocalypse Now, Gray has presented a picture that simply demands a big-screen viewing.