The Lost City of Z
Percival of Bolivia
With so much of today’s cinematic efforts being put towards fictional superheroes, there seem to be fewer and fewer movies made about real human heroes from history. Now, there would be those who might balk at calling soldier-turned-explorer Percy Fawcett a hero—after all, his belief that he had found the remains of the lost city of El Dorado was met mostly with ridicule until recently—but his story is an important one in history and has served as an inspiration for many. With Fawcett being something of a real-life Indiana Jones, it is also a story that seemed destined to be a movie and that movie has now arrived in the form of The Lost City of Z.
The movie introduces us to Fawcett when he was a major in the British army. No matter how good of a soldier he was, Percy knew that he would never be honored with medals or recognition due to the bad name given to his family by the acts of his father. Percy is determined to clear his family name and so when he is sent on a mission to South America in order to help map the border between Bolivia and Brazil, he seizes it as his opportunity to make his mark on history.
After fighting through hostile natives, piranhas, disease, and starvation, Percy and his team reach the source of a river and discover what appear to be the remains of ancient pottery. Percy takes this as proof on an ancient civilization and when he returns to England, he pitches a major expedition to discover it. A wealthy investor who fancies himself to be an explorer finances the operation and Percy leads his team back into the jungle. And although they seemingly resolve their issues with the natives on this trip, plenty of other unforeseen obstacles and the soon-to-follow start of World War I keep him from reaching his goal. But Percy is determined and will make the discovery of the ancient civilization that he calls “Z” his life’s work.
The movie opens with a hunt as dozens of British soldiers on horseback race to be the ones to shoot the elk that is to be the main course at a planned feast. The camera follows these horses through the fields as they leap fences and tumble over each other. The scene is thrilling and adventurous, instantly reminding me of the big epics like Lawrence of Arabia or Braveheart. At this point, the movie had me thoroughly engaged. I remained engaged through the initial expedition which is followed by a terrific and humorous scene of British bureaucracy. But shortly thereafter, the movie began to lose me.
Following the initial set up, the movie falls into a sort of redundant loop. The first mission ended with Percy finding a hint of the lost civilization, only to be forced back due to a danger of starvation. Although the next mission’s failure is for different reasons, it still ends with Percy getting just close enough to find a hint of his goal. Later, when it felt like the movie could just as easily wrap up its story with some end titles—which it eventually gets to anyway—the expedition pattern begins again. Even a brief interlude in World War I while Percy and his crew join the fight feels redundant. It is this redundancy that has the movie feeling every bit of its two hour and twenty minute runtime.
There were also a few moments in the movie that felt out-of-the-blue and not very well set up, which took me out of the movie. For example, for a scene in which they must send one of their crew back home ahead of them, Percy says that he will give up their last horse and then suddenly the man is on a horse. This was the first time we had seen a horse on their adventure, which to this point has consisted of fighting their way through the jungle with a machete and then working their way up the river in either a canoe or a raft. Where had the horses been this whole time? It is a small thing, but it amounted to a distraction from the story.
I appreciate The Lost City of Z for the kind of movie it is trying to be and often succeeds at being. It tells an interesting story that I was happy to learn about and features some solid performances from Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, and Sienna Miller among others. But it dragged on a little too long and lost steam as it went instead of building excitement up through to the end. That lack of energy through to the finale made the movie echo the expeditions it showcased, offering us a hint of a great movie, but not quite getting us there.
The Lost City of Z is rated PG-13 for “violence, disturbing images, brief strong language, and some nudity.” The movie was reportedly originally given an R rating, but it felt like a PG-13 movie to me, but there are definitely a couple of graphic images that could have viewers turning away.
Courtesy of a local publicist, Jeff attended a promotional screening of The Lost City of Z.