By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
The Lost City of Z is one of those rare films which does not glamorize the pulps, where exploring the world means danger in every turn! Many old-time radio shows over dramatize these stories so listeners are invested to tune in next week, and not many — at least to my knowledge — lay the world grounded in reality. They are more like heroic fiction than anything else. When considering this biography takes place circa 1912 and spans nearly two decades, there’s a lot of ground to cover.
This film written and directed by James Gray does a fantastic job of detailing the life of adventurer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) from his days of being an intrepid socialite to explorer to soldier (and back), and his conflict with “high society” which led to whether or not he is accepted amongst his peers because of something his father did. Ultimately, this film is about father and son relationships instead of seeing how Nina (Sienna Miller) stayed devoted to him. Some may say he is out carousing through jungles in search for a lost city and fighting in World War I as a means of escape. He knew he had a duty to his country than to his family, and while the latter plight gets explored to a tiny degree, I doubt a full look at his family life could have been done. Sacrifice had to be made to emphasize which narrative matters. In this movie’s case, the various conflicts tends to focus on matters of male ego, especially when he has a rival of sorts in the Royal Geographical Society.
Although Percy’s excursions was met with little success, he did pave way to influence other adventurers (even to this day) to seek their El Dorado. He believed there is a forgotten civilization waiting to be discovered and its remnants lay somewhere deep in the jungles of the Amazon. The question of whether he found it or not depends on how people want to interpret the final moments of this film. At this point, I was reminded of how Josh Gates of Expedition Unknown often closes off each episode. The film nicely brings forth the idea I love in this television show by reflecting on the fact that the journey is more important. A better documentary series, Digging for the Truth, touched on Percy’s quest in the season two episode, “Lost Cities of the Amazon.”
I enjoy watching archaeological adventures when they are not trying to mimic the Indiana Jones formula. While Steven Spielberg and George Lucas set the bar with their action hero, the horrors of truly dangerous situations rarely gets explored. I hoped this film might step into Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness territory, and while it sort of does when the intrepid hero goes to war, that moment was too short. Maybe one day, we may learn of this adventurers fate. Until then, all we have is guesswork.
3½ Stars out of 5