There is a buzz in the air when it comes to The Lost City Of Z. Rumblings from overseas in Berlin where it went down a storm at the International Film Festival had reached Britain. James Gray directs this mysterious tale of a lone explorer who vanished in the 1920s trying to finding to find a forgotten civilization, hidden in the Amazon. A cast of British talent including Charlie Hunham, Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller is a strong lineup and one that begs curiosity. As the lights went down in the auditorium I was ready to be enthralled. Happily, two and a half hours later, I was, but not at all in the way I had expected.
Charlie Hunham stars as Colonel Percy Fawcett, sent to the Amazonian rainforest at the turn of the 20th century to find out how profitable their rubber plants are. But as he plunges deeper into the exotic and sometimes deadly world he discovers signs of a forgotten civilization. Determined to prove the existence of this lost city, untouched by the white man, he endeavors again and again to find hard proof to show the naysayers back home. It becomes his life work and at times seems like it has driven him to the depths of madness. The story is adapted from a novel which in turn is inspired by a true story – a fact I wasn’t aware of until the end credits. It explained so much about the films style and texture that the source material was a fictionalized account of such a unique journey. This certainly felt as intimate as the greatest works of fiction do. Watching was like secretly flicking through pages of a diary. Leaps in time take place as well as leaps of faith as explorer Fawcett returns again and again to the Amazon in his quest to find his lost city.
I wondered if Hunham, star of Sons of Anarchy, could still be as captivating minus a motorcycle and his patched-in leathers. Turns out yes – even if his British accent is dodgier than his American (which opens up a Pandora’s Box of confusion given that he is British). He fully embodies a man driven in his desire to live magnificently rather than exist modestly. He is in his absolute element when jousting with a gaggle of excitable businessmen and scientists who doubt the existence of his city. Thrusting from the podium in front of them he bellows that he will prove them all wrong, sparring with them left and right. The perfect accompaniment to his brashness, is Robert Pattinson’s character Henry Costin. Unrecognizable in a thick beard, Pattinson plays it calm, quiet and quirky as his companion on multiple quests. Yet it is always believable that the two should need and rely on each other in their trips to the depths of the Amazon. Sienna Miller is playing her usual role as ‘wife/girlfriend’ – but actually it turns out she can do a bit more than squint and smile (the usual prerequisite to any appearance by her). She argues fiercely with her husband that he has a wife and children at home which should give him all the adventure he seeks in the world. Indeed it was this point that troubled me the most amidst my enjoyment at the epic scale of the whole affair.
I questioned Fawcett’s motivation. I just couldn’t get my head around it. I didn’t for a second not believe his drive and desire to find the Lost City of Z. I just didn’t for one second understand why he cared so much. Nor could I relate to a man who was willing to leave the love of his life and his children for years at a time while he sought out the fabled land. Who would do that and why? Well – in a subtle flashback near the end of the film it reveals all the motivation you could ever ask for. At the same time a beautiful moment between father and son plays out as Fawcett speaks of living life more in his few years than anyone else ever could in a lifetime. That even if they should die at that moment, their hearts would know that they truly lived. It’s a powerful moment in an emotionally and philosophically epic film.
The film was quite simply brilliant, tantalizing, tense and emotional throughout – I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen. Much credit must go to Gray whose direction is sublime, and whose contrasting of a deer hunt with a human hunt was delicious in its execution. I can’t quite put my finger on what struck me the most, but the film lingered and held onto me for many days after walking out of the cinema. There was a haunting beauty to the whole thing and an inescapable desire to return to it in my mind, much like Fawcett’s own unshakable compulsion to go deeper and discover more about Z.