In 2005, The New Yorker magazine published a piece by journalist David Grann, a journey through Brazil, retracing the steps of English explorer Percy Fawcett, who mapped the uncharted depths of the Amazon in the early 20th century. Grann later expanded this piece into a book, “The Lost City of Z,” published in 2009, and now the cinematic adaptation of Fawcett’s adventures has been brought to the screen with a richly detailed specificity by writer-director James Gray.
Though Fawcett’s story is known, it’s almost better if one embarks on this voyage with as little knowledge as possible, as Gray weaves this tale of Fawcett’s journey with a sense of intimate immediacy. Charlie Hunnam stars as Fawcett, resplendent of mustache and swaggering of spirit. He’s a man with ambition beyond his circumstances.
It’s only through sheer force of will and talent that Fawcett can establish a name for himself, so he takes a position on a mapping expedition to Bolivia, in the realm of Amazonia, a word that he will come to utter with the utmost reverence. With his aide-de-camp Mr. Costin (Robert Pattinson), Fawcett bushwhacks through the thickest jungle, tangles with cannibalistic tribespeople, barely survives piranhas and develops a sort of addiction to the steamy, foreboding land.
Fawcett becomes convinced that there’s a lost ancient city to be found in Amazonia, a belief that sends him back again, and again.
The film is, visually, a luscious masterpiece of gold and green — from English meadows to untouched rainforest; daytime kissed by gentle sunlight to nighttime aglow with torches. It’s so lushly textured, it’s as if you can reach out and touch the velvety layers of the image.
This is possibly Hunnam’s best role and best performance to date. He perfectly embodies the vim, vigor and competitiveness of Fawcett. The truly amazing supporting performance comes from Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s wife, Nina. She helps her husband, researches, supports and loves him, begs to go with him. Through Miller’s riveting, heartfelt portrayal, “The Lost City of Z” etches a delicate picture underneath the colorful, wild portrait of Fawcett — of the losses suffered at home in service of greater ambitions and fantastical dreams.