Review: The Lost City of Z’s trek into the Amazon is full of integrity
- Credit: Studio Canal
Despite sounding like the next Tarzan spin-off, this tale of real-life Amazon explorer Percy Fawcett is a striking success that tells a true story with verty British restraint.
The Lost City of Z (15)
The Lost City of Z is a film I had half a mind to give a miss. The notion of sending the precious, delicate flower of our thespian youth off on an expedition to the Amazonian jungle seemed an enterprise fraught with potential disaster.
Him out of Twilight (Robert Pattison), the new boy Spider-man (Tom Holland) and, even the Son of Anarchy who turned down Fifty Shades (Charlie Hunnan), just didn't seem robust enough for the task ahead, doomed to perish in some vainglorious calamity, like fresh faced, well groomed Captain Scotts.
This expedition though is an unexpected triumph. It manages to do something that the movies almost never do: it tells a based-on-a-true story as though it might actually be true.
It is important for potential viewers to realise that despite the pulpy title which looks as though it should be prefaced by 'Tarzan and…,' this is not a tale of foolhardy derring-do gone wrong but a biopic of the explorer Percy Fawcett; a career soldier who, while mapping the border between Bolivia and Brazil, discovers an obsession that will cause him to be apart from his wife (Sienna Miller) and family for many years.
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We have become accustomed to these stories of chaotic Werner Herzog and Klaus Kinski led descents into madness. This is a tale of a destructive obsession, but a calm, measured destructive obsession. It's terribly British like that.
The film hero worships Fawcett but the careful, balanced way it presents his pursuit reveals much more about what drove the sense of duty and sacrifice in the British officer class that built the empire, than a stiff upper lip caricature could. The film is like a Ripping Yarns script, played straight and very poignantly.
The American director Gray also wrote the script and has done so with some bravery. Confronted with a narrative that sprawls over two decades (1905 to the mid 1920s), it is episodic, has few major defining events or neat narrative arcs, and the motivation of the characters is often tough for a modern audience to grasp. But it doesn't flinch or scamper away to the haven of artistic license.
Instead, it faces them all down head on and tries to deal with its subject honourably and faithfully. And overall it succeeds, creating a film that is the mirror of its subject: bold, striking, spiritual and full of integrity and is perhaps touched with a certain noble futility.