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Lost City of Z is Fascinating Epic, Based on a True Story

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Seth Montpelier: Arts & Leisure Editor

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Photo Courtesy of IndieWire.

Photo Courtesy of IndieWire.

James Gray’s The Lost City of Z, based on David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name, is a riveting, and ultimately harrowing, biopic about a man with the desire to explore a new world when his peers believe it to be a waste of time. But, as his wife puts it, it’s far better to have “a reach that exceeds your grasp” than to have it the other way around.

Charlie Hunnam portrays Colonel Percy Fawcett, a beloved military figure who decides to use his war-expertise to explore the Amazon. He departs the United Kingdom for Bolivia to seek unknown civilization. His partner through exploration is Corporal Henry Costin, played with modesty by Robert Pattinson. They discover hints of a past civilization, but find little evidence to bring back. The voyage is grueling and painful, leaving those who funded the trip to send him back. Meanwhile, he returns to a child born while he was gone and another who doesn’t remember him. The movie often returns to the theme of sacrifices made when pursuing a dream.

Fawcett and Costin are portrayed as generous and progressive men. They don’t dismiss the tribes they find as savage, and Fawcett sees his wife as an equal, something uncommon in the beginning of the 20th century. It’s the relationship between Percy and Nina Fawcett [Sienna Miller] that is the foundation of the film. Her devotion and patience with her husband allow their marriage to weather his multiple, years-long absences. Percy returns to the Amazon, and is sent to serve in World War I upon his return. This creates a tension between him and his oldest son, played by current Spider-Man Tom Holland. Percy’s ambition doesn’t diminish after a brutal war, but his team does. He finds the only person willing to accompany him is his oldest son, who’s practically a stranger to him.

Despite its premise, the majority of The Lost City of Z’s 140 minutes is set in England. The expeditions are rather brief, perhaps representing how Fawcett is forced to return home because of wretched conditions, even when he yearns to see more. For reasons like this, the film can drag at times. Much of the groundwork laid in the beginning seems like excess.

The acting is strong, especially Hunnam, who gives Fawcett a convincing drive. The script doesn’t give too many warts to its protagonist, but Hunnam is able to find the internal struggle in Fawcett, a man who wants to be a family man, but can’t give up on his work. Miller and Pattinson are fine as well. They don’t have the flashy roles, but they’re also able to give their characters enough emotion to avoid seeming one-dimensional. Holland is able to show some of his real acting skills here, not being confined to the snarky teenager Marvel writes for him. He’s able to show a mix of resentment and hero-worship to his father; a boy trying to hold his father accountable for his shortcomings, but also striving for his attention. The Lost City of Z is able to turn its 20-year scope into an intimate and contemplative story not only about unknown civilizations, but also fragile relationships.

3 out of 4 dolphins

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Lost City of Z is Fascinating Epic, Based on a True Story