When you’re taking in the sweeping vistas of the Devon countryside or the delving into the hitherto unknown frontiers with Charlie Hunnam and his superb moustache, you begin to realise something: You just don’t get films like Lost City of Z anymore.
In some ways this is a positive. Those old fashioned adventure films were problematic to say the least, with their portrayals of “primitive” or “barbarian” natives subjugated by macho white men like John Wayne or school-shooting defending, firearms advocate, the late Charlton Heston makes for uncomfortable viewing.
Thankfully, James Gray has demonstrated to us all that old fashioned action, adventure stories can be delivered to the cinema for a contemporary audience. Lost City of Z is an epic, emotionally taxing journey. A timeless story of a deadly obsession.
Fawcett’s obsession is in part, finding the missing piece of the human jigsaw, The City of Z, as he says in an impassioned speech to the National Geographic Society. In a scene, which resembles the knockabout public schoolboys club of Prime Minister’s Questions. Plenty of sheep noises and mocking laughter. You’d half expect Dennis Skinner to pop up, red tie and all and hurl one of his trademark cutting insults to Dudley Dursley, (yes Harry Potter’s Harry Melling is in this film).
However, it is not simply his obsession to forge his own legacy in history but an obsession to escape his world. The moment we see Hunnam’s Fawcett find clay pots in the deepest Bolivian Amazon we are presented with a world of parallels. The parallels between the freedom of exploration and the stuffy constraints of home life.
How Fawcett sees his own world of the stagnant British aristocracy as primitive and the ancient civilisations and peoples of the Bolivian Amazon has refined and advanced. Indeed even his own more forward thinking views on Native Americans in comparison to his incredibly retrograde views on gender roles!
The closing scenes of the film and the operatic theatre in the jungle are astonishing profound in a way that is truly hard to fathom. Gray has done a fabulous job of presenting the supposed advanced society of Britain as dark, dingy, primitive and stagnant in contrast with the bold, bright, deadly but untouched wilds of Bolivia. Moreover, there is a sense of foreboding which looms over proceedings. The increasingly darkening skies signalling tragedy in a manner reminiscent of Foxcatcher.
The performances are excellent from a strong cast although within those performances lies a problem. Without doubt Robert Pattinson –sporting more spectacular facial hair – as Fawcett’s companion Henry Costin and Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett end up eclipsing Hunnam. To the point where you begin to desire to see one of their stories told instead.
Nevertheless, Hunnam is more than able as an explorer whose legend has only grown down the years while his contemporaries have faded into the deep chasm of history.
There will be repeat viewings from me and, if you can spare the 140 minutes of its running time, I suggest you do the same. This is a feature which demands every ounce of your intellectual and emotional capacity but rewards you for you diligence and energy.
The Lost City of Z is a truly profound and brilliant piece of work.