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The Lost City of Z

One man’s early forays into the uncharted Amazon are part real-life adventure tale and part journey of self-discovery

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James Gray’s adaptation of the David Grann nonfiction book The Lost City of Z is a thoughtfully melded ripping yarn, journey of self-discovery and gentle rebuke of the “civilized” world’s myopia.

Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) has bounced around the Empire with the British military — when we meet him in 1905 he’s posted in Ireland — and is picked for a new assignment. It’s a bit of colonial tidying up: He’s to chart a river border in Bolivia to facilitate the Western rubber plantations there. He takes a small crew, including Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson), and bids his wife (Sienna Miller) and young son goodbye.

River navigation in the Amazon is fraught, and there are echoes of both Fitzcarraldo and Heart of Darkness here. But deep in the jungle, Fawcett finds pottery fragments, and believes they are a significant archeological find suggesting the existence of a lost advanced civilization. Back in Britain, his theories are mostly pooh-poohed, but Fawcett is undaunted: He makes several return trips to the Amazon seeking more evidence.

Between journeys, for Fawcett, there are domestic joys and woes; arguments with various established cultural and scientific groups; and, of course, the Great War, in which refined European gentlemen mow each other down in muddy trenches.

The focus here is on Fawcett — with a few digressions into his wife’s nascent feminism — and how he comes to define his life, and even self, by the search. The story has an external component, of course, and there is the raw excitement of fending off piranhas and bushwhacking into the unknown. But Fawcett possesses the existential elements of the 20th-century man, who climbed Everest because it was there, or simply needed an open-ended quest to find meaning in life. Today, we speak knowingly of the journey being the goal, but Fawcett, as depicted here, pursues this in opposition to the rigid social and military constraints under which he lives. It gives this handsomely produced film a bit of extra depth, even as it rather dutifully marches through Fawcett’s life and times.




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