The Lost City of Z

A thrilling ex­pe­di­tion into the wilds of the Ama­zon, and it’s (mostly) true, too.

The Washington Post - - THE WEATHER - BY STEPHANIE MERRY stephanie.merry@wash­post.com

The old-school ad­ven­ture epic is some­thing of an en­dan­gered species. We no longer see ex­plor­ers on the big screen, ven­tur­ing into un­charted ter­rain where for­eign dan­gers lurk, even though those sto­ries are cin­e­matic.

“The Lost City of Z,” which dra­ma­tizes Percy Fawcett’s ad­ven­tures in South Amer­ica, is a thrilling re­minder of the genre’s po­ten­tial. The real-life Bri­tish sol­dier made mul­ti­ple trips to the Ama­zon dur­ing the early 20th cen­tury in search of an an­cient civ­i­liza­tion.

View­ers should know go­ing in that the movie, based on a book by David Grann, plays fast and loose with the facts. The film de­picts Fawcett, played by Char­lie Hun­nam, as a brave, brilliant and open-minded pi­o­neer, chaf­ing against the stric­tures of a Bri­tish so­ci­ety that la­bels the indige­nous peo­ple “sav­ages.” In truth, Fawcett prob­a­bly did the same. But that would have been a non-starter for a hero in 2017.

The care­ful at­ten­tion to mod­ern-day sen­si­bil­i­ties comes across even more conspicuously in the de­pic­tion of Percy’s wife, Nina (Si­enna Miller), a self-pro­fessed “in­de­pen­dent woman,” who makes a case for ac­com­pa­ny­ing her hus­band on his dan­ger­ous trips. In­stead, the mother of three ends up stuck at home while her hus­band gal­li­vants on the other side of the world.

Fawcett’s first trip is a mis­sion he’s loathe to ac­cept on be­half of the Royal Geo­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety to help de­fine the bor­der be­tween Brazil and Bo­livia. Of­ten over­looked be­cause, as one char­ac­ter puts it, he was “un­for­tu­nate in his choice of an­ces­tors,” Fawcett agrees to go af­ter he’s promised glory and ad­vance­ment should he suc­ceed.

Once he re­al­izes how dan­ger­ous the mis­sion is, how­ever, he be­gins to sec­ond-guess that choice. Along with his aide-de­camp, Henry Costin (a won­der­ful Robert Pat­tin­son, un­rec­og­niz­able un­der a bushy beard), a na­tive guide (Pe­dro Coello) and a few other helpers, Fawcett learns just how risky a river cruise down the Ama­zon can be. In one par­tic­u­larly har­row­ing scene, a tribe un­leashes an on­slaught of ar­rows on the trav­el­ers. Those who sur­vive nearly starve to death, al­though blood poi­son­ing from gan­grenous wounds or dis­ease could eas­ily kill them first.

At the cul­mi­na­tion of this trip, Fawcett stum­bles upon pot­tery in the jun­gle, not to men­tion an­cient art carved into rock. He isn’t quite sure what this place is, but he knows he must re­turn to in­ves­ti­gate. But how to con­vince the Royal Geo­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety to send him back, when its mem­bers don’t want to ac­knowl­edge that such a civ­i­liza­tion could pre­date Eng­land’s?

“The Lost City of Z” was di­rected by James Gray, who ca­pa­bly transitions from smaller, more self-con­tained sto­ries — “Two Lovers,” “We Own the Night” — to this sprawl­ing saga that whisks au­di­ences from Cork, Ire­land, to the rain for­est to the trenches of World War I France. The movie is long, but never slow, even as it leaves am­ple time to sur­vey the breath­tak­ing vis­tas cap­tured by cin­e­matog­ra­pher Dar­ius Khondji.

Hun­nam com­pe­tently in­hab­its his role, even if his char­ac­ter isn’t en­tirely mem­o­rable. In an ef­fort to make Fawcett a log­i­cal, up­stand­ing guy, the story never fully con­vinces us of his ob­ses­sion with re­turn­ing to find the lost city. The man on the screen, de­void of ei­ther mad­ness or ex­treme pas­sion, doesn’t seem the type to leave his fam­ily and re­turn to a place that nearly killed him.

But off he goes any­way back to the great un­known. The choice might be hard to fathom, but it’s still a thrill to watch.

AI­DAN MON­AGHAN/AMA­ZON STU­DIOS & BLEECKER STREET

Robert Pat­tin­son, left, and Char­lie Hun­nam star in “The Lost City of Z,” the real(-ish) story of one of Bri­tain’s great­est ex­plor­ers, who trekked deep into the in­te­rior of Brazil.

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