By: Samar Khan
I shall refer to the film as TLCoZ from this point onwards, so as to expend more energy explaining why I enjoyed the film rather than constantly re-writing it’s admittedly lengthy title. TLCoZ is a wonderful tale of geographical exploration that provides a refreshing awareness of the sins of colonizers past while providing us with a portrait of driven- and yet flawed- lead that isn’t as clichè as protagonists tend to be. Give said protagonist a quality script, utterly luscious visuals and put a competent director behind the lens and what you have is a film that can be considered a near-masterpiece and early contender for the best film of 2017.
BRIEF PLOT SYNOPSIS
Let me preface this plot synopsis by stating that I went into this film with heightened expectations due to enjoying David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name. In my vast film-viewing experience, going into films with high expectations leads to disappointment more often than not but TLCoZ bucked that trend because the source material was so difficult to get wrong.
The film chronicles the story of British military Major Percival “Percy” Fawcett (played in a star-making turn by Charlie Hunnam) who heads into the Amazon rainforest at the dawn of the 20th century at the behest of his superiors. Fawcett was initially dispatched to Bolivia (or “uncharted Amazonia” for the majority of the film) as a surveyor/cartographer, but gains personal interest in the region when he uncovers evidence of a lost and technologically advanced (by ancient standards) civilization hidden deep within the jungle. Fawcett is accompanied on his journey(s) by an aide-de-camp by the name of Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson shines as the bearded companion of Hunnam’s Fawcett), as well as Fawcett’s son, Jack (in a remarkably subdued performance by Tom Holland). Hunnam’s Fawcett returned multiple times to the Amazon in search of evidence that he could provide to his skeptics, those that doubted the veracity of his claims and held negative beliefs about “primitive” societies.
The Plot. What a tale. This was a multi-layered film, one that focused on a man’s quest to venture into the as-yet-unknown, and provides an idea of what goes through the mind of a man with exploration in his blood. It provides a humanistic family element to everything as well and isn’t afraid to shy away from not answering every question, as we can see today with how little we still know about ancient civilizations the world over. The film focuses on that one man’s search for meaningful fulfillment, and attempts to understand the root cause of why anyone would risk their life in the pursuit of something so seemingly unrewarding.
Cinematography/Visuals. Gorgeous is the only word that I can think of that can even partially describe the beauty of the images on screen. From the birds-eye shots of the Amazonian jungle, to the dreary trenches of the River Somme in France during World War 1, the film is a visual spectacle that makes each scene count. There is nary a wasted scene and for a film that approaches 150 minutes in run-time, not once does it feel as if it overstayed its welcome thanks to the beauty on display. That is quality filmmaking.
Sound. It’s strange, for a film that bashed the viewers over the head with gorgeous visual shot after gorgeous visual shot, the understated sound complemented the visuals perfectly. From the thundering drum beats when being attacked by Amazonian natives while traversing a river to the sombre tune playing during the protagonist’s final scene, the sound was perfect throughout.
Charlie Hunnam. As I mentioned in my opening line, I have never considered any of the work produced by Charlie Hunnam to be anything special. This one performance changed my entire perception of him as an actor, as he delivers a powerful performance as the driven yet haunted explorer who spends decades trying to find an ancient civilization while attempting to navigate aging, World War 1 and an ever expanding family thousands of miles away in England. I rarely nowadays consider single films to be true star-making performances but in Hunnam’s case, The Lost City of Z may be the platform upon which a fantastic career is established.
Sienna Miller. Miller (American Sniper, Foxcatcher, GI: Joe) plays Fawcett’s wife Nina, and for once is not merely a stereotype of a stay-at-home wife that Miller has played many times before and has resulted in exactly zero memorable performances (does anyone actually remember her character in American Sniper?). Thanks to a great script and director James Gray’s commitment to proving each character with some emotional heft, Miller plays a dynamically complex partner to her co-star Hunnam’s husband character, one who rebels against the sexism of her era while still supporting her husband’s journeys in whatever way she can by handling the household on her own.
Robert Pattinson. I’ve never seen a film starring Pattinson that I have actually enjoyed save the Harry Potter film that he played Cedric Diggory in (R.I.P., Cedric!). His performance as the loyal Costin is amazing because he steps out of his comfort zone and delivers easily his best performance yet. Equally as comfortable being drunk on a ship as he is emotionally explaining why he cannot accompany his longtime friend on a return voyage to the Amazonian jungle, Pattinson complements his co-stars career best performances by delivering an equally as powerful one.
Supporting cast. Angus Macfadyen (Equilibrium) as a prideful and completely unlikable – seriously, I wanted to punch him through the screen- explorer by the name of James Murray headlines a nondescript supporting cast that delivers some of the best supporting work I’ve seen where I did not recognize a single supporting actor or actress. Edward Ashley (Sens8) plays Arthur Manley and makes up the third member of the trio of Pattinson, Hunnam and himself. While afforded the least screentime of that trio, his no nonsense and poised Manley makes him the ideal complement for Hunnam’s driven and slightly reckless Fawcett as well as Pattinson’s more bookish Costin. Finally, Tom Holland (Captain America: Civil War) in his final performance before his turn as Peter Parker in the upcoming Spider-man reboot is excellent as the defiant son of Hunnam’s Fawcett, eventually growing to accept that some dreams just may be worth dying for, as was the belief of his father.
Authenticity of time. This was what firmly tilted the film from “very good” to “great.” For one, the costumes and set design for the World War 1 era England and France was spot on and something that should garner serious consideration come awards season. Second, the passage of time and aging associated with it was expertly on display here. The film did a wonderful job of introducing characters such as Fawcett’s family and his children from birth to adolescence without feeling rushed. Thanks to some stellar make-up work, the leads all genuinely looked as if they had aged by the end of the film, with the 20 year timespan showing in the faces of each character. Fantastic attention to detail, absolutely fantastic.
The ending. This isn’t as large of a quibble as one might expect as I thought the film’s ending was very good but for how engrossing the tale was, ending on a completely ambiguous nature by way of on-screen text and no additional scenes was slightly off-putting. The sense of “not all mysteries are solved” that was prevalent throughout held up through the ending of the film which was completely acceptable but for a 150 minute film, an additional scene to put a bow on the film’s events would have made it perfect. Alas, not a big issue but still a wasted opportunity.
We here at The Film Lawyers are proud to grace The Lost City of Z with a grade of A (9.3/10).