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Movie Review: "The Lost City of Z" Is Like Indiana Jones Meets "Masterpiece Theatre"

Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus McFadyen, Ian McDiarmid
Screenplay by James Gray
Based on the book by
Directed by James Gray

Reviewed by Paul Gibbs

Out of Four

I'm a sucker for a good epic adventure movie, and The Lost City of Z is a very good one. Not an action film, mind you. While there are a few sequences of flying arrows and narrow escapes, most of the adventure comes in the form of travel and exploration. While Percy Fawcett, the film's protagonist, is rumored to be one of the inspirations for Indiana Jones, there are no fights with Nazis or supernatural forces. But the story is harrowing nonetheless, and aside from a grand adventure it's a thoughtful treatise on what's important in life, what makes us who we are, and what a legacy is.

Major Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunham) begins the story as a man whose father, an alcoholic gambler, left him with no legacy. And in the class conscious British society of 1905, that's a problem. So Fawcett gladly accepts an assignment from the Royal Geographic Society to lead an expedition to Bolivia to map an unknown region and find the source of a river, leaving behind his wife (Sienna Miller) and young son Jack. Joining him is is aide Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson in a bushy beard and glasses.).  After an arduous journey, Fawcett and Costin find what they're looking for, but also find the remnants of pottery and other artifacts which Fawcett believes reveal that the stories the natives have told him about a great city are true.

Of course, on returning home, Fawcett's theory is widely scorned, as much of the proper society gentlemen believe such a civilization among the "savages" could not be possible, because that would mean the natives were their equals and they were actually just a bunch of sniveling prissy racist jackasses for ever thinking otherwise, and that just can't be. Fawcett vows to return and locate the city, which he calls Z.

Writer/director James Gray does excellent work here, nailing both the epic adventure of traipsing through the Amazon and the drama of the strain Fawcett's quest puts on his family.  While the film is long and will doubtless strike some audiences as slow moving, it never drags. And it's great to look at, as Darius Khondji's cinematography is first-rate, with a understated, natural-light look. Both stylistically and in term of pacing this is an old fashioned film, one that respecs its audience and doesn't feel the need to hit us over the head. That's no more common in "prestige" or indie films than it is in popcorn blockbusters these days, and it's both refreshing and stimulating.

Hunnam gives a complex, soulful performance  in the leading role, though Fawcett is not always an easy character to understand or relate to. It can be difficult to fully grasp his obsession, and his willingness to put his family through the hardship of his long absences. But this is a strength rather than a weakness. Like David Lean'Lean's masterpiece Lawrence of Arabia, this is an intimate epic that's as concerned with the interior life of its hero as it is with the spectacular exteriors he's exploring.  And Hunnam is ably supported by a solid group of actors, with Pattinson something of a revelation as an outstanding character actor given the right opportunity (there's nothing of Edward Cullen here.). The always excellent Tom Holland is up to his usual standards here, and is often the case Angus McFadyen is entertaining in the most colorful role. But I was perhaps most impressed by Sienna Miller, who I've tended to view as more of a pretty face than great actress, but who gives what I found to be the most compelling performance in the film as a firecly strong-willed and independent woman who is also strongly supportive of her husbamd, but sometimes struggles with being asked to do more than is reasonable.  It's triumph of turning the often thankless role of "the wife" and making her a fully realized character and human being.

While it's not terribly likely to please fans looking for a pre-summer blockbuster, The Lost City of Z is gourmet cinema that serious film buffs should seek out and devour. It's a compelling, stimulating and rewarding cinematic journey.

                     The Bearded Trio - The Site For Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, John Williams
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