It’s Worth Discovering “The Lost City of Z”

Based on a true story? An Amazonian adventure? Sign me up! It’s 2 hours and 21 minutes long? Ummm…maybe I’ll wait until it shows up on Netflix.

Yes, “The Lost City of Z” sports a bloated runtime, but this James Gray-directed epic adventure is an interesting adaptation of David Grann’s 2009 non-fiction bestseller. If you can stick it out, you’ll be rewarded with beautiful cinematography and a nostalgic look back at a time a time when “adventurer” was still a viable career option.

Spanning well over a decade, the film focuses on the life and exploration of Percy Fawcett, a British military man with a burning desire to learn more about the lives of people beyond the confines of the United Kingdom. Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) absolutely transforms himself into the turn of the century explorer, breathing life into this long-forgotten historical figure. Hunnam brings an emotional depth to the character that allows the audience to see the cracks in his façade of bravado, imbuing Fawcett with a gentleness that is not often discussed in historical texts.

While Fawcett provides an Indiana Jones-like hero upon which to center a film, at its heart, “The Lost City of Z” is really about destiny and honor. Fawcett begins his journey as a young man, set on reclaiming his family name which was sullied by his drunkard father. But Fawcett’s quest gradually becomes a personal evolution in which he realizes he has a higher calling. He has a destiny that drives him to move forward with his explorations, often at great personal cost to himself and his family. What motivates Fawcett is both a search for inner peace and fulfillment, and a larger societal issue. Our hero sets out to not only discover a long-lost Amazonian city, he sets out to prove that white, European men do not corner the market on civility and innovation.

Sienna Miller is believable in her supporting role as Nina Fawcett, Percy’s independent yet dedicated wife. And Robert Pattinson is solid, if not totally memorable, in his understated turn as Henry Costin, a friend and fellow explorer. Angus Macfadyen delivers an outstanding performance as the self-important James Murray, a polar explorer who insinuates himself into Fawcett’s jungle trek.

It’s the little details that make this film a success. The costumes, the make-up, and the cinematography all elevate this drama. Yes, it drags a bit. Yes, some creative liberties are taken with this “real life” story. And, yes, it is yet another male-dominated retelling of the monomyth (the hero’s journey). But it’s a story you don’t often seen told on the big screen these days. And it gives the audience a subtle critique of colonialism, while exploiting the nostalgia for the days of Westward Expansion.

Playing now in select theaters.


Patty Williamson

I teach media-related stuff at Central Michigan University, and have been ruining film for students for nearly 20 years.

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