Lost City of Z breaks out of the formulaic adventure mold, to tell a beautifully intriguing tale of exploration and obsession.
Lost City of Z, based on the non-fiction book by David Grann, tells the story of the early 20th century adventurer Percy Fawcett. Due to his father’s scandal, Percy (Charlie Hunnam) is stuck in his respectable, yet undistinguished, military position. The Royal Geographical Society offers him the chance to map the border between Brazil and Bolivia to prevent conflict between the two, additionally elevating his military and societal rank. He sets off to the Amazon Rainforest with his aide-de-camp, Costin (Robert Pattinson). In the rainforest, Percy finds pottery leading him to conclude it is leftover from the titular lost city of Z. Percy takes multiple trips back to find his lost city, even taking his son Jack (Tom Holland) along on the journey.
Lost City of Z is not exactly what the trailers advertise, but is incredibly worthwhile nonetheless. The trailers make it seem like a conventional adventure movie, but it is definitely not conventional. It is not even so much an adventure. The genre it would be most accurately be aligned with would be the travel narrative popular in the 18th century.
While there is adventurous suspense in the Amazon Rainforest, that is not the real focus. Lost City of Z emphasizes the actual terror of the situation, rather than manipulating the audience with artificial fear. Lost City of Z focuses on an intense fascination with the unknown. It slowly peels back the layers, indulging the audience’s curiosity, rather than thrusting them into the unfamiliar world.
Lost City of Z not only explores unfamiliarity of the Amazon, but also British society in the early 20th century. The glimpses into Percy’s societal sphere surprisingly offer an interesting satirical layer. This interestingly parallels these two worlds, questioning who are the real savages.
It is interesting seeing Percy approach the native tribes he encounters with sincere respect for their culture. Through this, Percy’s endeavor becomes commendable, allowing the audience to root for his success. Percy wants the glory of finding Z, but he also wants the knowledge and understanding that comes with the city’s existence. Percy does desperately seek his white whale, but Hunnam portrays it with realism, not with an affected craze. Lost City of Z does not feel like a cautionary tale about ambition, but simply an exploration into Percy’s character and this world.
Hunnam commands the screen, often making impassioned speeches which, although they exist for expositional purposes, feel genuine and compelling. Pattinson is shockingly funny when he can be understood through his accented mumbles. Although Holland is not given much screen time, he exists as an effective foil to Percy, approaching the expedition with an electric wonder to his father’s ardent obsession, as he follows in his footsteps.
The entire atmosphere of Lost City of Z is wonderful, successfully transporting the audience into both worlds presented. The cinematography is stunning, not afraid to play with light and dark, as evident even through the beautiful posters. The score is also unique, distinct between the two worlds. Though it is noticeable, it never feels obtrusive. It only further enhances these rich worlds, as it is strategically placed to have the most impact.
Lost City of Z is most significantly lacking by feeling a little bit rushed. This could have been a phenomenal mini series. The chapters in Percy’s life as he returns to the Amazon could easily fit into a serialized format. It does still, however, make an exceptional movie. Lost City of Z is not given enough time to explore the variety of story lines and characters it introduces.
A significant scene takes place in which Percy’s wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), wishes to go along with Percy on one of his adventures. This results in a heated argument, with Nina declaring her proto-feminist and suffragette inclinations. Instead of exploring this storyline, more fully developing Nina’s character, it only exists as justification for why she allows Jack to journey with Percy. Even Jack’s switch from resenting his father for abandoning him to insisting on joining him feels a bit abrupt. Ultimately, Lost City of Z is Percy’s story, but it still sets up these fascinating side characters, although without allowing the audience to see their development.
Lost City of Z is a fascinating movie, which gives itself time to explore the unknown with the audience. The stellar performances make these historically based characters actually feel real and relatable to this audience. This is elevated by the cinematography, never over-indulgent in capturing the beauty. Although it may not be the most heart-racing adventure movie, Lost City of Z is able to fascinate the audience without manufacturing intrigue.