The Lost City of Z (2016)

Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Edward Ashley, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Clive Francis

Directed by: James Gray

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Two hours of Sons of Anarchy's Jaxx as  turn of the century Amazonian explorer Percy Fawcett? Where do I sign up?

Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z

On paper, these two characters played by Charlie Hunnam may not seem to have much in common: the determined military man turned explorer and the outlaw biker gangster. Yet the pair are more similar than you might think: both are fiercely loyal to their companions, be those SAMCRO brothers or fellow jungle trekkers; both profess to care the world for their families but in practice can't wait to get away from them; both have antiquated, patriarchal views on a woman's place (rather more excusable in 1910…); and both are bullheadedly stubborn in the pursuit of the struggle they come to see as their destiny: to live free (Jaxx, obvs) and to find the Lost City of Z.

At the start of the film, Fawcett is a somewhat reluctant explorer. First and foremost a soldier, frustrated by his lack of progress up the ranks due to his father's unsavoury reputation (another Jaxx parallel: the absent, problematic father figure) he sets off for the Amazon under duress, as a last ditch attempt to gain some glory. But while attempting to map the border between Bolivia and Brazil to prevent war between the two nations, he discovers traces of an ancient civilisation. These fragments of a vanished world become a deep, abiding obsession. World War One and a dispute with the Royal Geographical Society may stand in his way, but Fawcett is determined to discover the Lost City that haunts his dreams...

Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett in The Lost City of Z

To be honest, the film isn't quite what I'd expected: I was gleefully anticipating rather more feats of derring do and close calls with cannibals and rather less clunky dialogue and shoehorned in exposition (although rest assured, there are cannibals). Rather than glibly celebrating the evils of Imperialism by casting them into a jolly adventure, the film calls into question the way the western world has raped (and continues to rape) the Amazon forests, despoiling the land, heedless of its native inhabitants and ancient history.

All of which makes the film sound a bit dull, which it really isn't. Yes it's long and takes a while to get going, but this gives us time to get under the skin of our awkward, earnest, clumsily accented hero, who only ever seems comfortable when clad in sweaty khaki fatigues, a fetching beard concealing his curly military 'tache, up to his knees in piranhas or hacking his way through the undergrowth deep in the jungle, trusty sidekick Mr Costin at this side (this last a nicely understated performance from a bushy bearded Robert Pattinson doing that Brad Pitt trademarked 'hey I ain't no hearthrob' thang).

Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson and Edward Ashley in The Lost City of Z

So not the film I'd expected – more The Man Who Would Be King than Raiders of the Lost Ark; an absorbing and at times slightly crazy journey into the dark heart of an uncharted continent, tempered by the good heart of an upright, decent chap. At times thought-provoking, at others tense, and ultimately terribly moving, The Lost City of Z is a fine old fashioned movie that celebrates the achievements and aspirations of a fine old fashioned hero in epic style. Welcome to the jungle...

  • Share on Tumblr