The Lost City of Z

Apr 24, 2017

Satisfying biopic of Percy Fawcett's search for an Amazonian lost city.

The Lost City of Z

Image courtesy of IMDb.

Grade: A-

Director: James Gray (We Own the Night)

Screenplay: Gray, based on David Grann book

Cast: Charlie Hunnan (Deadfall), Robert Pattinson (Queen of the Desert)

Rating: PG-13

Runtime: 2hr 21 min

by John DeSando

"To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield." Tennyson's Ulysses

Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnan) in the first part of the 20th century was the fulfillment of 3 out of 4 exhortations by Ulysses.  His real life  journeys searching for an Amazonian lost city ended  famously without our knowing his and his son Jack's fate somewhere in that jungle.

Writer director James Gray in the lushly-photographed Lost City of Z has caught the measured spirit of David Grann's book about the search in a fashion that does not cater to our romanticized notion of exploration as Tennyson did. At times the film echoes Apocalypse Now and before that Joseph Conrad's "Heart of Darkness," though lacking their heroes' crazed intensity.In an unusual tack, he shows not a terrifying, maggot-filled hike but rather one filled with hope to find this version of Eldorado while he is hounded by thoughts of the dear family left behind for years.

In fact, while you might long to see another version of Herzog's Aguirre: The Wrath of God, with a crazed conquistador floating on a raft of wild monkeys and daughter bride, here you have not a crazed adventurer but rather a level-headed British major, confident that his discovery will bring tolerance and equality for the "Indians" and restore the honor of his family name crippled by his drunken father.

Yet I'm being more certain than Gunn and Gray; never do we fully know Fawcett is crazed or obsessive. We are uncertain about his fundamental motivation. Maybe we shouldn't know, for he is a good man who has a job to do, initially surveying a river to its source, and after finding artifacts pursuing exploration as an extension of that duty. He's common like so many dreamers, so we can identify with him.

The Lost City of Z is an enjoyable, uplifting, non violent exploration of not so much the jungle as the decent human spirit looking for a purpose in life that just happens to be the unknown:

“But he grew old—

This knight so bold—   

And o’er his heart a shadow—   

Fell as he found

No spot of ground

That looked like Eldorado.” Poe’s Eldorado

John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at