The Lost City of Z tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett, who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as "savages," the determined Fawcett - supported by his devoted wife, son and aide de camp returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925.
To capture the dramatically varied settings of the Amazon rainforest, proper English life, and horrific World War I battles, Gray asked cinematographer Khondji to shoot on film stock. "I wanted the movie to be almost like a throwback visually to the complexity of characterization you might see in the 'New Hollywood' films of the 1970s," he says. "I wanted to couple that with the epic sense of adventure David Lean brought to his films in the early '60s. Of course, I should be so lucky, but that was the ambition." See more »
During the battle scene taking place in 1918 in which Percival Fawcett got wounded you see German machine gun nest with soldiers wearing Pickelhaube (spiked helmet). The Pickelhaube was replaced in 1916 by the Stahlhelm since this was better suited in the demanding conditions of trench warfare. See more »
The Lost City of Z explores the density of obsessive discovery shrouded in a jungle of abandonment.
Exploration. The yearning for discovery. To set foot where no man has ventured before. To excavate rarities that determine ancient civilisations. There's nothing quite like it. The addiction for reconnoitring. That overwhelming chase for glory in the ambitious overlay of cementing one's name in the history books. During my childhood, I desired to gain such credibility as an explorative scout. The inner Indiana Jones or Rick O'Connell within me, presenting film as a means of inspiration, screaming for adventure. Alas, working behind a desk will have to suffice, as Gray's portrayal of Amazonian fauna and flora proved to be devices for both the dangers of adventure and character self-destruction, in what is the most realistic depiction of exploration presented in film.
Percy Fawcett, a young officer, is sent to the unknown Amazon jungle to map out the boundaries between two rivalling countries. His expedition proved fruitful, as he continually lusts to discover greater finds and prove the existence of an ancient civilisation. A jungle city covered in gold to which he describes as "the lost city of Z".
First and foremost, Gray's illustrious biographical feature is a character study. Surveying a man corrupted by obsession, determination and compulsion. Selecting the option to risk his life discovering an ancient city, on multiple expeditions, as opposed to residing in England with his family fathering his newborn children. Representing the Amazon as a means of escape, Gray balances Fawcett's fanatic behaviour against his wife's abandonment with such infirmity that it instantly allows connectivity with each character. Nina's lust for her husband's safety and adventurous opportunities coincides with Percy's painful sacrifice of missing out on his children's adolescence. His unavailability scarring the mentality of his offspring, as they fail to grasp their father's longing for exploration.
This isn't an outrageous adventure film where Percy is fleeing from an oncoming oversized boulder. Not even an action blockbuster where colonialism results in "savages" being viewed as antagonists. It's reality. Gray grounds the story and characters in realism, and rarely explores the route of fantastical ambiguity, with several scenes tackling societal issues. Fawcett's speech after his first expedition unravels the conflicting ideologies of what makes a society civilised, showcasing the narrow-minded viewpoints of RGS academics. Nina arguing with her husband for his misogynistic remarks in an attempt to level out equality. His son, Jack, reconciling and following the footsteps of his father, presenting the themes of respect and admiration. It's epic, both literarily and in scope.
The extensive runtime is rarely noticeable, with only one or two segments slowing down the pace. The Battle of the Somme, just to further highlight Fawcett's lust for pride and provide reconciliation with his son, diminished the intent obsession for "Z", which consequently made the third and final expedition feel more like a holiday than an adventure. And that's really my only gripe. Gray expertly maintained the aura of compulsion for the first two expeditions but faltered at the last hurdle.
However, the deliberate slow pace meticulously produced plenty of opportunities for cast and crew to display their talents. Hunnam gave a mesmerisingly commanding performance as the lead, although slightly lacked nuance in the calmer moments. His ferocity and thirst for adventure was truly infectious, as was Pattinson's role who yet again proved he is no longer the sparkly vampire of 'Twilight'. Miller and Holland, although lesser roles, had important scenes that were conveyed beautifully, affecting Fawcett's mentality in poetic ways. Khondji's cinematography was stunning. Emphasising the frivolous shades of yellow and green to complement the natural environment that these characters have embarked upon. And Spelman's score, shifting between uplifting and sentimental, portrayed Fawcett's conflicting interests euphorically. Technically, an astounding achievement that cements Gray's understanding of filmmaking.
The slowness, despite not accessible for all audiences, works in Gray's favour. It coincides with Fawcett's gradual susceptibility to pride. And at its core, The Lost City of Z is a wondrously engaging character study. One that is eloquently performed, meticulously written and creatively constructed. A biographical adventure that, whilst set a century ago, seals its relevancy by exploring not just luscious jungles, but societal issues. A drama that, providing you put in the investment, may just quench your thirst for dangerous adventure. Just don't take James Murray with you...
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