The Lost City of Z tells the (presumably) true tale of Colonel Percival "Percy" Harrison Fawcett, a British colonel, cartographer, and explorer whose travels and discoveries in the Amazon have inspired countless iterations from a novel by his friend Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (The Lost World) to a ride at Disney World (The Jungle Cruise makes me feel like Nina had she been "allowed" to go along...we'll circle back to that).
The Lost City of Z is writer/director James Gray's (Little Odessa; The Immigrant) realization of Col. Percy Fawcett's explorations for a lost, ancient civilization deep within the uncharted (by a white man) Amazon. A glimpse, really, it is based on author David Gann's book of the same name, which compiles all of his research on Fawcett including his own quest into the Amazon to discover the truth into a compelling story that draws you in, ready for one final expedition in search of closure. A story far too rich in details, subplots, and history to be compressed into a brief (albeit 2+ hours) of cinematic glory. Gray has magically achieved glory in a subdued, emotionally transcendental film trusting the narrative, and allowing his actors to be deliberate in their pace.
The scope of The Lost City of Z, even in Gann's more expansive and detailed account, is but a gleaning of Fawcett's story. Fawcett is portrayed by Charlie Hunnam (Queer as Folk; Sons of Anarchy; Pacific Rim) with great patience and sincerity. Kept on the fringes of high society as a result of his being "...unfortunate in his choice of ancestors," Fawcett's bitterness and resentment are captured with unapologetic honesty as motivation for his endeavors and achievements. Hunnam apposes these less than flattering qualities with the Colonel's strength, perseverance, and seemingly un-aristocratic nature towards those marginalized by the same society from which he seeks inclusion. Hunnam allows the human truth to navigate and intertwine these juxtaposing traits so often found in many of us.
"There are no small parts; only small actors…" blah, blah, blah Fine. Let us, however, focus on Sienna Miller (Alfie; Factory Girl) for a moment, and her turn as Col. Percy Fawcett's wife, Nina. Miller gets limited screen time; not to be confused with screen presence. Granted, little is known about Nina Fawcett other than her apparent unwavering support of and devotion to her husband. Miller, however, infuses Nina with a fierceness and vitality that leaves one longing for more. Even when she has no dialogue, the nuances in her body language and eyes betray an untold intrigue.
Miller's Nina adds relatability to a bygone era and capitalizes on the moments she gets to humanize her husband. There is the tease of an intellectual equality between them. However, when Nina seeks to join Percy on a subsequent expedition, he shoots down the notion of a woman traversing such dangers. In spite of his inquisitive and welcoming nature, he is still tied to the gender assignations of his time (Knowing well that Nina never joined her husband's expeditions, I still couldn't help rooting for her to be included. I still want to see a sequel in which we truly get to know Nina).
Instead, his partner in exploration is Henry Costin played by a seemingly unrecognizable (that's what a few fellow correspondents claimed) Robert Pattinson (The Twilight Saga franchise; Queen of the Desert). Recognizable or not, Pattinson once again proves his ability to outperform any stigma he might carry at having been a highly commercial franchise character. A bit rough around the edges, Costin at first seems to be a starkly contrasting figure to Fawcett. As the film and expeditions progress, a deep respect and bond develop between the two men.
Gray has paced this film such as to allow the audience the time to truly understand the varying layers and perspectives. The viewer is able to feel the perils and excitement of Fawcett's adventures without getting lost in graphic and overproduced action montages. Rather, we get to understand the individuals within the story, and the nuances of human interaction at all levels from a tribe of cannibals to the cannibals of high society. This film is not a fast paced, action full escape a la Indiana Jones (also, rumored to have been inspired by Col. Fawcett). It is, however, a treasure of a story as told and brought to life in Gray's The Lost City of Z. Still as riveting as when the men first disappeared.