Before there was Indiana Jones, there was Percy Fawcett, an early 20th century British military man who knew there was a lost city hidden deep in the rain forest of the Amazonia.
Writer-director James Gray, inspired by author David Grann's 2009 nonfiction book of the same name. Gray’s “The Lost City of Z” presents Fawcett as a British army officer who can't seem to catch a break.
Regardless of his ability to capture prizes, he can't get decorated. There's some sketchy past about his father, also an officer, who liked booze and gambling too much it seems. When he's sent to meet with the Royal Geographic Society to embark on “a grand adventure” to the Brazilian-Colombian border, this may be his ticket to glory. It ends up being a personal and professional obsession.
There's a gripping realism in Fawcett's trips to the jungle. As he gets more obsessed with finding his lost city, risking everything including his family – he returns to England years after his daughter is born. His oldest son calls him out for being an absent father. At one point, his wife, Nina (Sienna Miller) tells him she'll join him on a trip. She makes a case, but this is clearly her husband's journey and he'll have no part of that.
Hunnam as Fawcett resembles Brad Pitt, who is credited as producer at the end of the film. Well, Pitt was supposed to star in the film, but took on another project, and then Benedict Cumberbatch was to have taken over the role, but Hunnam gets down and dirty in the jungle, bringing an incredibly honest portrayal to the determined Fawcett.
Gray was as dogged in making his film as Fawcett's determination in the jungle.
It took nine years for Gray to get "Z" made. Principal photography lasted from August to October 2015. Filming took place in Northern Ireland and in the jungles of Colombia. Gray said that his crew and stars had their fair share of challenges in the jungle. Hunnam woke up with a beetle lodged in his ear, a crew member was bitten by a viper, another crew member got malaria, and two others got dengue fever. Everyone survived.
Gray also insisted on shooting his 140 minute film on 35mm, which gives the movie a lush and authentic look. Gray spoke during the screening of his film at the New York Film Festival telling press that even though it cost $750,000 to shoot in 35mm, the aesthetic qualities it would bring to his film would be worth it.
Gray was right.
Like the hero in his movie, Gray went to great lengths to get "The Lost City of Z" made.
At 140 minutes, there's some fat that could be trimmed, but nonetheless this is a film of epic proportions, for sure. Filmgoers who love history, great acting, and those Indiana Jones stories, will find that wading through Gray's adventure-packed movie is a worthwhile discovery.