I always thought that Charlie Hunnam was the best actor in the overly violent, raging macho-trash dumpster, “Sons of Anarchy,” and in writer-director James Gray’s big, new jungle adventure “The Lost City of Z,” he proves me right.
And as his partner in his vine trampling, arrow dodging ride up the dark river of death, Vampire and Harry Potter grad Robert Pattinson as Costin really surprised me, hiding behind a scrubby beard and John Lennon spectacles. It was almost near the end that I recognized either of them.
“Lost,” based on the book by writer David Grann, is the true story of the fabled British explorer, surveyor and archaeologist Lt. Col. Percy Fawcett, a man of his time obsessed with heroism.
Fawcett, a 19th Century military alpha male, horseman and rider to the hounds, is stationed in Ireland.
Bored and unable to find a war at the time to fight, which deprived him of any decorations, Percy takes up an offer from the Royal Geographical Society of London, and reluctantly sets out to map the border between Bolivia and Brazil, which was a bone of contention between the countries.
He will, at a later point, in a splendidly filmed battle, find a path of glory in WWI.
After an Atlantic boat journey, Percy and Costin, with a motley crew, find themselves boating up Conrad’s river of darkness, full of piranhas and snakes, fevered flotsam and jetsam, all gorgeously captured by the great cinematographer Darius Khondji.
Khondji’s cameras are truly magic lanterns; his jungle and river scenes are astonishing.
By his third voyage, Percy is hooked. He finds the source of the river fed by a mighty waterfall, and high above some carved stones and shards of pottery, convincing him that an ancient empire existed here.
This makes him a temporary front page hero in the UK, but that’s not enough for Percy, he is now enchanted by the vision of a fabled El Dorado, an ancient civilization he is sure is buried in the flora and fauna, so on he goes, determined to walk the golden streets and wear the golden slippers of archaeological fame.
The real Fawcett went back to the Amazonian forest eight times, returning to England each time to impregnate his long suffering wife Nina (a superb and lovely Sienna Miller) and raise money for another try.
Nina put up with it, it seems, but longed to join him and his crew, eager to be part of his life, but Percy would have none of it.
“I can’t see you in trousers,” he moans. You know how these British explorers are.
Not simply a one-dimensional adventurer, Fawcett turns out to be a true humanist, who comes to love and respect the tribes and their cultures, a decision not without risk.
Fawcett, slowly shedding his alpha skin, ultimately saw the jungle as a spiritual place, devoid of the political animosity and greed of civilization, much as Lawrence found in his desert when he wrote it’s clean.
I’m of two minds on this magnificent and dazzling film. It stands out in an exciting big screen form as a great adventure, with shades of David Lean’s “Lawrence of Arabia,” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “Apocalypse Now.”
But many of you, I’m sure will feel a deep sadness for Nina Fawcett, especially so powerfully played by Miller, as she sat by her fire each night reading his letters and journals, while she stared into the evening light all alone, eyes filled with tears. What price glory, say I.
Nina, ever the military spouse, steadfastly kept the home fires burning, cooking, cleaning and tending to three small children, while her hero, on his final voyage, this time with his son Jack, boated up his personal river Styx in search of fame.
British History tells us they were never seen again. Legend gives another version. It is thought by some that on his last voyage, with his grown son Jack, (Tom Holland) he chose to stay behind with the natives. No mention is made of Nina.
J.P. Devine is a former stage and screen actor.