phone mail2 facebook twitter play whatsapp
FILM REVIEW: Lost City of Z
Image Credit: Lost City of Z. Studio Canal.

FILM REVIEW: Lost City of Z

17 March 2017 | Edd Elliott

The Amazon has proved a perilous environment for films to venture into over the years. For every Fitzcarraldo that has discovered the cinematic El Dorado, there have been more than a few pictures that have gotten stuck in the festering backwaters of movie ignominy – we’re looking at you Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Gearing up for the latest trek into the rainforest is new release Lost City of Z. Let’s hope they’ve brought a map and a compass.

James Gray’s sixth feature film follows Colonel Percival Fawcett (played by Sons of Anarchy’s Charlie Hunnam) the renowned early 20th Century explorer. Tired of his army exile in Ireland, Fawcett dreams of breaking through the inertia of the Edwardian class system and redeeming his family name. When a chance for glory lands on his lap, he leaps at the opportunity. The unexpected boon comes from the Royal Geographical Society as the young officer is sent to South America to map the border of Brazil and Bolivia. Venturing deep into the rainforest Fawcett and his loyal companion Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) stumble upon the remains of a potentially ancient undiscovered society. Titling this culture “Z” the colonel returns to England to show his findings. Fawcett’s contemporaries, however, refuse to accept this revelation – “Are you suggesting these savages’ civilization predates our own” scoffs one. Only another series of adventures into the jungle will prove the explorer’s beliefs.

Lost City of Z, The explorers on the river.
Lost City of Z. Studio Canal.
 
The jungle in cinema has always been synonymous with madness. Characters who delve deep into the undergrowth stray away from civilization and therefore (in filmic terms) sanity. Like Herzog’s great heroes – Aguirre, Dieter, Fitzgerald – Hunnam’s character is painted as a man driven by obsession, a thirst for the truth, but a compulsion that sets him against friends and family nonetheless. Back at home Fawcett’s wife Nina (subtly performed by Sienna Miller) supports the adventurer’s family while he is away years on end. The absence creates strain on the marriage – but not as much as Nina’s suggestion that she accompany Fawcett into the jungle, and an interesting subplot of oppressive Edwardian gender norms emerges in Lost City’s background.
 
There’s a rough, unpolished edge to Gray’s film: not everything feels to be quite where it should. The narrative is peculiarly shaped and some of the usual (some would say generic) plot events for action-adventures are noticeably absent. Moreover some of Lost City’s camera angles and editing feel more akin to an indie short than a multi-million dollar movie. The film’s production was racked with uncertainty. Brad Pitt was originally set to play the lead role. After the actor pulled out in 2010, staying on as an executive producer, the project’s future looked precarious – even more so when second choice Benedict Cumberbatch also withdrew. Money was collected by a series of smaller production companies and a full cinematic release appeared doubtful for a time.

Charlie Hunnam in Lost City of Z
Charlie Hunnam as Colonel Fawcett in Lost City of Z. Studio Canal.
 
For some, Lost City’s oddities will appear as imperfections – it’s certainly not a flawless film. The unkempt and uncultured nature of this jungle project, however, does lend its story a wilder edge. So far has the picture strayed from the blueprint of a Hollywood adventure, that it’s almost unpredictable. It has departed so significantly from the map, and out here a dangerous plot twist could linger behind every densely overgrown thicket. Fawcett ends up hallucinating from thirst, captured by natives, and in one particularly impressive sequence, fighting in the trenches of WWI. The film’s close, however, comes down like a jaguar from the treetops, and audiences will be split as to whether Lost City’s final moments provide a fitting conclusion.
 
There’s a lot to pick holes in with this explorer biopic, but there’s also a lot to like. Lost City wraps itself up in the oddity of the jungle and revels in the madness of the trees. It’s hard to make monotonous undergrowth cinematic, but Gray manages to turn the rainforest into a cauldron of thriving activity – if Hunnam is the lead, the Amazon deserves at least a co-star credit. Does the picture find El Dorado? No. But plenty of smaller treasures are unearthed along the way.
 
**** - 4 stars

Tell us what you think

You may also like

Win 2 Tickets to a Private Art View, Lunch & Photography Books!

The Other Art Fair - Win 2 Tickets to a Private Art View, Lunch & Photography Books!

The Other Art Fair returns to Bristol for its third year this September, and to celebrate we have a prize perfect for any art lovers.

The Best Cycle Paths in Bristol

The Best Cycle Paths in Bristol

As one of the UK’s greenest cities, Bristol and its citizens are well versed in cycling lore. The city and its surroundings are criss-crossed with well-maintained…

A Brighton Foodie Guide

A Brighton Foodie Guide

There remains a charm to Brighton. Who doesn't love spending a needless fiver on a penny arcade? Or touring the city's labyrinth-like Laines, full of…

A Falafel Lover’s Guide to Bristol

A Falafel Lover’s Guide to Bristol

Locals love them, hungover students binge them, and vegans swear by them. Falafels are a staple in any Bristolian's diet, and with such an…

24 hours in Margate

24 hours in Margate

A short commute from the capital, Margate’s wealth of independent shops and cafes make it a popular getaway for Londoners hoping to get a bit of…

An Interview with Tessa Lynch

An Interview with Tessa Lynch

Tessa Lynch is a multi-disciplinary artist whose work is inspired by the idea of the city as a living, breathing entity, and how we as…

Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is one of the UK’s most beautiful and fascinating destinations to visit. A mixture of medieval charm, Georgian elegance, and modern-day chic,…

Win Two Tickets to the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol

Affordable Art Fair - Win Two Tickets to the Affordable Art Fair in Bristol

Win two tickets to the Bristol Affordable Art Fair's Charity Private View!

A Guide to Street Art in Brighton

A Guide to Street Art in Brighton

If there’s one thing Brighton has in spades, it’s street art. You’d be hard pushed to navigate your way through the city without encountering it in some…

24 hours in Easton, Bristol

24 hours in Easton, Bristol

Easton is one of Bristol’s most vibrant districts. Home to a wealth of independent shops, world cuisine and a burgeoning music scene, this cultural hotpot is…

Most popular

Top 5 Walking Trails in the UK

Top 5 Walking Trails in the UK

Want to escape this Bank Holiday weekend and put that DofE qualification to good use? Here are five of the UK's most stunning walking trails.
The Best Cycle Paths in Bristol

The Best Cycle Paths in Bristol

As one of the UK’s greenest cities, Bristol and its citizens are well versed in cycling lore. The city and its surroundings are criss-crossed with well-maintained mountain and leisure trails so read on for our selection of some of the best…
Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh on a Budget

Edinburgh, Scotland’s capital city, is one of the UK’s most beautiful and fascinating destinations to visit. It’s a hard task fitting in all its wondrous sights in a day, but here’s our how-to guide on getting the best of the bunch for under £20.
Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Indie Theatres

Bristol’s Hidden Gems: Indie Theatres

Bristol is known throughout the UK for being a leader in arts and culture. The city’s theatrical offerings are no different – here is our round up of where to look for a top-notch evening of entertainment.
A Book Lover’s Tour of Literary Britain

A Book Lover’s Tour of Literary Britain

From Shakespeare’s Stratford to the city that birthed The Boy who Lived, we have compiled the essential must-see destinations for literary lovers.
Win Two Tickets to the Event of your Choice!

Shoreham Wordfest - Win Two Tickets to the Event of your Choice!

Fancy expanding your literary imagination? Or perhaps sourcing inspiration for your great novel? We are giving away two tickets to the event of your choosing at this year’s Shoreham Wordfest!  
A Culture Calling Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe 2017

A Culture Calling Guide to the Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Every August the incomparable Edinburgh Festival takes root in the Scottish capital, bringing with it hundreds of thousands of performers, critics, musicians, comedians. Read on for our guide to some of the shows to look out for.
An Interview with Tessa Lynch

An Interview with Tessa Lynch

We speak to the seminal artist about her upcoming performance at Bristol's Spike Island
A Falafel Lover’s Guide to Bristol

A Falafel Lover’s Guide to Bristol

Now that we've all agreed that falafels are the best food to grace the earth, we've compiled a list of the best spots to indulge in these cheeky little chickpea chappies.
An Interview: Mischief and Madness in Moominvalley

An Interview: Mischief and Madness in Moominvalley

Moomin mania is coming to Bristol. We speak to Bristol-based collective Lost and Found on their performance.

Your inbox deserves a little culture!