I got to watch another film in Europe that won’t be released in North America for a few weeks: The Lost City of Z. Its premise sounds a bit like Kong: Skull Island: Explorers hunting for a hidden location never seen by anyone from the so-called civilized world (i.e. white people). But the similarity ends there. The Lost City of Z is not a silly action-adventure story full of monsters who love to eat people. Instead, it’s an old-fashioned epic adventure-drama (I love old-fashioned epics) based on a true story taking place during the first half of the 20th century. Indeed, this film most closely resembles last year’s marvellous Embrace of the Serpent, though there are enough differences to make this a worthy companion film.
Charlie Hunnam plays Percy Fawcett, a British army major whose previous experience with the Royal Geographical Society (RGS) leads to an opportunity to do some mapping in Bolivia which is vital for defining the border between Bolivia and Brazil. Fawcett, who has a wife (Nina, played by Sienna Miller) and young son (Jack), is at first reluctant, but once he gets to South America, he gets bit by the adventure bug, especially when he begins to hear tales of a lost city that may prove there were advanced civilizations in the Amazonian jungle long before Europeans or even Egyptians were building cities of their own.
The RGS, led by Sir George (Ian Mcdiarmid), is sceptical of these tales, but James Murray (Angus MacFadyen) sees an opportunity for fame and agrees to join Fawcett and his team (which includes Henry Costin, played by Robert Pattinson) for a second expedition to Amazonia. Meanwhile, Fawcett has another son and Nina has studied the Amazon and wants to join the expedition, to which her husband naturally replies something like: “A woman in the jungle? Are you mad??” Fawcett goes off without her, Murray turns out to be a disastrous addition to the team, Jack begins to resent his father’s constant absence, and so on. Will Fawcett ever find the lost city of Z? I won’t say, but I will say that Fawcett accomplished much in terms of opening up the Amazonian jungle and treating its indigenous people like human beings instead of like savages or slaves (as the rubber barons saw them).
The Lost City of Z is gorgeously filmed, has a great score, tells an important and exciting story and features a lot of excellent acting. The drama, which focuses on Fawcett’s life in the UK, works particularly well. The adventure half of the film certainly contains many great moments, but it suffers from what was, for me, a serious flaw: A constant lack of clarity about the current state of each expedition (questions like: where are they now? what is their next goal? how much time has passed? what is the state of their team and supplies?). This lack of information created too much frustration for me to award the film ****. Too bad; this could have been a classic.
So The Lost City of Z gets a solid ***+. It’s a much better film than Kong, though action lovers will no doubt see things very differently.