Empire (Australasia) - - Contents -

Se­ri­ously, how do you lose a whole city?!

DI­REC­TOR James Gray

CAST Char­lie Hun­nam, Si­enna Miller, Robert Pat­tin­son, Tom Hol­land, An­gus Mac­fadyen

PLOT While on a 1906 ex­pe­di­tion, ex­plorer Percy Har­ri­son Fawcett (Hun­nam) finds what he be­lieves to be ev­i­dence of a lost civil­i­sa­tion. Un­earthing this Ama­zo­nian El Do­rado —‘Z’ — be­comes his ob­ses­sion and, he be­lieves, his des­tiny.

HAV­ING SPENT MUCH of his ca­reer chan­nelling the grit and glower of ’70s crime cinema (see: Lit­tle Odessa, The Yards and We Own The Night), it’s no sur­prise to find that James Gray’s lat­est movie just as faith­fully echoes the same era — al­beit in a very dif­fer­ent way. In The Lost City Of Z he takes us far from the Scors­ese-es­que mean streets of the East Coast and drops us deep into the ver­dant, even meaner murk of a Her­zo­gian wilder­ness.

Aguirre, The Wrath Of God is the ob­vi­ous touch­point, with its own doomed quest to find a jun­gle-swal­lowed city. As in Her­zog’s un­set­tling 1972 epic, Gray’s shad­owy jun­gle is an amoral, bru­tal and some­times sur­real force to be war­ily re­spected, rather than some bright, ro­man­tic pulp-fiction play­ground. The Ama­zon rain­for­est is a “green desert” where any pass­ing non­indige­nous hu­man is lit­tle more than a walk­ing buf­fet for mos­qui­toes, pi­ranha, jaguars and can­ni­bals. It is a pow­er­ful and vis­ceral por­trayal of a truly un­mer­ci­ful land­scape.

Though Ma­jor Percy Fawcett is no wild-eyed Aguirre. Known to his con­tem­po­raries as “the David Liv­ing­stone of the Ama­zon”, and an in­spi­ra­tion for Sir Arthur Co­nan Doyle’s The Lost World, he was one of the last great Bri­tish ex­plor­ers — a man who, un­til he him­self be­came as lost as the city he sought, kept his com­po­sure and dig­nity amid the heat, star­va­tion and oc­ca­sional del­uge of tribal ar­rows. In Gray’s script (adapted from The New Yorker writer David Grann’s su­perbly il­lu­mi­nat­ing his­tory) this fas­ci­nat­ing char­ac­ter comes with the added bag­gage of so­cial os­tracism; “He’s been rather un­for­tu­nate in his choice of an­ces­tors,” one snooty su­pe­rior notes. So suc­cess as an ex­plorer is not merely a ques­tion of sat­is­fy­ing his in­trepid na­ture; as Fawcett says to his boozy aide-de­camp Costin (Robert Pat­tin­son, hid­den be­neath specs and a bushy beard), “My rep­u­ta­tion as a man rests en­tirely on our suc­cess.”

In cast­ing the role, Gray has taken some­thing of a gam­ble. Char­lie Hun­nam’s broad­shoul­dered, lad­dish swag­ger seems an odd fit for the rake-thin, ram­rod-straight gen­tle­man ex­plorer, who we fol­low through two decades of life. And while Hun­nam largely holds up well un­der the pres­sure of his most de­mand­ing role yet, he is a less com­pelling pres­ence dur­ing the qui­eter scenes with Fawcett’s ahead-of-her-time wife Nina (Miller, un­der­used in yet an­other side­lined-spouse role) and, later, his grown-up son Jack (Hol­land). He is a man for hack­ing at the tan­gled un­der­growth or, in a dra­matic mid-film di­ver­sion, scram­bling across the barbed­wire and chlo­rine-gas plagued no-man’s land of the Somme.

Which isn’t to place the blame for the film’s lapses in mo­men­tum squarely at

Hun­nam’s door. Gray’s three-act/three­ex­pe­di­tion struc­ture ne­ces­si­tates in-be­tweenad­ven­ture stretches which, while high­light­ing Fawcett’s list­less­ness and im­pa­tience to get back to find­ing Z, may also test your own pa­tience a lit­tle and make the 141-minute run­ning time feel sig­nif­i­cantly longer.

It’s a dif­fi­cult story to end, too, its ap­peal to Grann be­ing its sta­tus as one of mod­ern his­tory’s great un­solved mys­ter­ies. But here Gray ex­cels, go­ing out on an oblique but ele­gant note that is some­how si­mul­ta­ne­ously un­nerv­ing and sub­lime. DAN JOLIN

VER­DICT Solid and stately, a ’70s-feel­ing jun­gle ad­ven­ture film that’s more of a thought­pro­voker than an ex­cite­ment-in­ducer. But there’s noth­ing wrong with that.

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