The Lost City of Z is like if someone took the meat of Zodiac, put it in the taco shell of Apocalypse Now, and sprinkled on some Raiders of the Lost Ark cheese as a topping. Food metaphor aside, it’s hard not to interpret this historical fiction film through the lens of these existing films that clearly have played into its creation, albeit with the understanding that The Lost City of Z is based loosely on real events.
As directed by James Gray, Charlie Hunnam plays Percy Fawcett, a turn-of-the-century British explorer with an obsession for an Amazonian city (“Z”, or “Zed”, as they refer to it, given English pronunciation) that, at the time, nobody had ever found. Hunnam here is gaunt and lean, a man possessed, and does a stellar job with the role; in thinking about Hunnam as an actor, I believe that the single biggest stumbling block he often is forced to deal with is how frequently he’s asked to act with an American accent; when he gets to play English, it’s easy to see why this guy has been pegged as a star.
Joining Hunnam on his quests is Robert Pattinson, delivering an absolutely wraith-like performance here. With his stern beard, he seems a man with nothing left to lose, and it’s an effecting performance. Interestingly, this film also features the appearance of one Mr. Peter Parker himself, Tom Holland, who plays Jack, Percy’s son. As played by Holland, Jack is competent and mature, yet still a child underneath it all, and late in the film, when he departs on a journey with his father to once again seek out the lost city, it’s all-too-easy to feel attached to his fate.
The obsession of Percy Fawcett certainly can be seen, through the lens of a film like Zodiac, as a parallel to the obsession of Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, Robert Graysmith; both men have a dogged conviction in something that others are skeptical even exists; in the case of Zodiac, there was certainly a killer, but nobody thinks that an answer will ever be found; in the case of the lost city, there’s even less faith than that.
The Lost City of Z is a very evenly paced film, with a slow humming pulse; even when there are action sequences in the film (and there are), they rarely advance the pursuit of any of the film’s story. In fact, the film’s story doesn’t really go too far if we’re being honest – after all, this is a film that is much less about the destination than it is about the journey.
The real telltale sign of the genius of a film like The Lost City of Z is that after watching it, I felt obligated to seek out the real story of what actually happened to the real-life Percy Fawcett. To seek out the book itself certainly seems an option, though in this case I opted for a mere Wikipedia summary; it’s a fascinating tale, to be sure.