THE LOST CITY OF Z, ad­ven­ture drama, rated R, Vi­o­let Crown,

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Percy Fawcett must have been quite a fel­low. He ven­tured deep into Ama­zo­nia mul­ti­ple times in the early 20th cen­tury, in pur­suit of his dream of find­ing a lost city. This telling, based on David Grann’s 2009 non­fic­tion best­seller, com­pacts those ex­pe­di­tions into three, on the third of which … but we’re get­ting ahead of the story.

We meet Fawcett (Char­lie Hun­nam) as a young Bri­tish of­fi­cer sta­tioned in Cork, Ire­land. He’s clearly the class of his reg­i­ment — bold, hand­some, a crack shot, a great rider — but he can’t seem to get ahead. The prob­lem, as an older of­fi­cer re­marks sotto voce, lies in “his poor choice of an­ces­tors.” His fa­ther, it seems, was a drunk, and dragged the fam­ily name into the gut­ter. When Fawcett is as­signed by the army to map a con­tested bor­der be­tween Bo­livia and Peru, he grum­bles that there are no medals to be won there. But or­ders are or­ders.

Soon he’s waist-deep in jun­gle vines, hack­ing his way through dense fo­liage and raft­ing with his party down dan­ger­ous stretches of river as ar­rows whizz past their ears. His com­pan­ions in­clude Henry Costin (Robert Pat­tin­son) and Arthur Man­ley (Ed­ward Ash­ley), and an In­dian slave they pick up as a guide. The guide men­tions ru­mors of a lost city down the river, the re­mains of a once-great civ­i­liza­tion. Fawcett scoffs, but when he finds some pot­sherds near the lo­ca­tion, he be­gins to be­lieve. But first he has to re­turn to Eng­land and raise the money to mount an­other ex­pe­di­tion.

This time he al­most makes it, but again Fate and Cir­cum­stance stop him just short of his goal. I was re­minded of the Marx Broth­ers air­man rou­tine from A Night at the Opera, where Chico says, “So now I tell you how we fly to Amer­ica. The first time we start, we get half­way across when we run out of gaso­line and we gotta go back. Then I take twice as much gaso­line. This time we were just about to land, maybe three feet, when what do you think? We run out of gaso­line again. And back we go again and get more gas.”

The Lost City of Z’s strong­est suit is its gor­geous pho­tog­ra­phy by Dar­ius Khondji. But it strains in the story depart­ment, with its en­light­ened, noble, ahead-of-his-time hero. In our own time, when ad­ven­ture seems so played out and the world has lost much of its won­der, we still have lost cities com­ing to light, in­clud­ing the Lost City of the Mon­key God in the Hon­duran jun­gle, in whose dis­cov­ery Santa Fe au­thor Dou­glas Pre­ston played a part. Fawcett’s ad­ven­tures a cen­tury ear­lier must have been in­cred­i­bly chal­leng­ing, dan­ger­ous, and ex­cit­ing. Writer-di­rec­tor James Gray cap­tures some of that, but he sur­ren­ders too of­ten to the clichés of the movies. — Jonathan Richards

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