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Movie Review

Major Percy Fawcett is a good man and a good soldier.

Unfortunately, for all his worthiness, he's had a difficult time gaining promotion in the either the army or in society. And that, he has no doubt, can be linked back to his father—a man who was known to be, shall we say, lax in his morals.

However, that doesn't mean all the cards are stacked against this upright man. After being called back to London, Major Fawcett is offered a special task by the Royal Geographical Society. It's a job that the Society's curator suggests might well earn him decoration and the opportunity to reclaim his sullied family name.

He's to head an expedition to South America where he will accurately map out the vague border between Bolivia and Brazil—hopefully curtailing war there and aiding the British rubber trade all in one fell swoop.

Of course, it's not an easy job. He'll be away from his wife, Nina, and their son for no fewer than three years. And even after teaming up with a more seasoned explorer, Henry Costin, Fawcett quickly realizes that the heretofore untried task is nearly impossible.

The heat is overwhelming. The jungle unnavigable. The insects swarm constantly, wounds don't heal, supplies rot. And then there are the natives who might pop out of the dense woodland and lob arrows and spears in their direction at any given moment.

Fawcett, however, is determined to press on. No matter the cost to himself or his company of men, he will fulfill his task and restore his name. He will map out a land that no white man has ever seen before.

Along that difficult journey, something simple changes the rest of his life. A native—someone who'd been captured and made a slave by a local rubber baron—becomes a part of Fawcett's party and casually mentions an ancient city. A city of maize and gold supposedly hidden deep within the jungle, somewhere just past the source of the river they're presently mapping.

Sure enough, when they reach the river's source, they find ancient pottery shards and elaborate carvings unseen by any civilized eye. And though he must now turn back to London, Major Percy Fawcett is consumed with a new purpose, a new potential for glory.

He will, he must return to the jungles of Amazonia and find an advanced and hidden city he has dubbed … "Z."

Positive Elements

What begins simply as a way to claim some modicum of redemption for Fawcett turns into a passion to solve an important anthropological puzzle that could benefit all mankind. In fact, Fawcett believes that the lost city of Z is the "ultimate piece of the human puzzle." And, obviously, something worth dedicating his life to.

His fuctional abandonment of his family certainly isn't admirable. But his wife and oldest son, Jack, both ultimately come to believe that the explorer's work is worth the time they lost together. In fact, an older Jack compells his father to join him and return to South America one last time in search of the still-unfound city.

Spiritual Content

Fawcett believes the so-called "savages" of the Amazon may be connected to a culture that is older and potentially more sophisticated than Europeon society. When the English gentry doubt his claims, Fawcett states that they've been blinded by the "bigotry of the church."

During World War I, a spiritualist with a Ouija board takes Fawcett's hand and "reads" his fortune, stating that his soul will only find peace when he finds the lost city he seeks. After being captured by natives, Fawcett tells his son, "Nothing will happen to us that isn't our destiny."

Sexual Content

Though never seen through a sexual lens, the indigenous natives of the South American jungles walk about nearly naked but for a small loin cloth. Several topless women are glimpsed among their number.

Violent Content

World War I trench-fighting scenes include massive mortar explosions and men struck by machine gun fire. One soldier gets hit in the face with a bullet, and several others fall gasping and gagging after being doused with chlorine gas. Fawcett loses his eyesight after being exposed to gas. Corpses are stacked in a trench. In other gun-related scenes, Fawcett kills a large stag and a jungle boar. We see the dead animals with bloody wounds.

In the heat and moisture of the dense jungle, the explorers sport never-healing open wounds and are inflicted with blood poisoning, fever and another disease that causes them to vomit blood. They're also exposed to various attacks from vicious natives. Some men are killed with arrows and spears. Two tribes of natives throw spears at each other, several of their number being impaled by the projectiles.

Fawcett makes peaceful contact with an indigenous tribe, only to find that they are cannibals. We see a human corpse roasting over a fire and shrunken human heads hanging from posts. Fawcett and Costin paint their faces with human blood.

A man who falls into a river is attacked by a school of piranha fish. While staging something of a mutiny, another character has part of his ear shot off. Fawcett slaps his teen son's face when the young man yells at him. Two men on horseback become entangled, sending the men and their mounts crashing to the ground. Someone is knocked off his horse when he hits a low-hanging tree branch.

Crude or Profane Language

One f-word and one or two uses each of "b--tard" and "d--n." Christ's and God's name are both misused once ("God" being combined with "d--n"). The British crudity "bloody" is used once.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Fawcett and several others occasionally swig from a small flask. We hear that Fawcett's father had a problem with "gaming and drinking." Costin smokes cigarettes regularly, and we see several other men smoking before charging out on a battlefield. Fawcett and his older son are both given some kind of hallucinatory drug by native tribesmen.

Other Negative Elements

Some members of the British nobility browbeat Fawcett because of his family name. One of them states, "He's been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors." Fawcett regularly leaves his own family behind, venturing to South America for several years per trip. In fact, after returning from his first expedition in the Amazon, his son wonders, "Are you my father?"

Conclusion

You may never have heard of the British explorer Percy Fawcett, but he is said to have influenced a number of adventure-minded authors over the years. He's even been linked to certain cinematic hero by the name of Indiana Jones.

That said, don't expect any Jonesian run-in-front-of-a-boulder derring-do, here. In fact, let me say straight up, if your idea of a great adventure film movie night is a bucket of popcorn and the latest Fast and Furious pic (or, well, anything with Jason Stratham in it) then The Lost City of Z is likely not the night at the movies you're looking for.

Director James Gray's take on this British explorer's life definitely has a different cadence than the majority of today's adventure fare. Like its historical subject, this film is quiet, intense, thoughtful and measured: a classic filmmaking approach in the style of, say, Doctor Zhivago or Lawrence of Arabia.

The truth is, Percy Fawcett's story feels altogether foreign to our modern movie-going mindset. His escapades were indeed peppered with danger, in the form of lethal jungle creatures and bloody battlefield encounters. But they rarely ended in anything like victory. Fawcett's life was spent in perpetual disappointment, crippling frustration and seemingly pointless sacrifice. His choice to leave a beautiful wife and loving family and make multiple-year journeys into the miserable sweltering jungle can seem almost nonsensical to today's average Joe.

So what we have here is a meticulously crafted and slow-moving film that captures the life of a man consumed by the heady beauty and aching magnetism of the unknown. It's less a movie about a man making great historical strides than it is about a man's obsessive need to put himself to the test, to reach beyond his own grasp. It's a tale of compulsive wanderlust that is best consumed with an unhurried understanding.

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Objectionable Content

Summary Advisory

Plot Summary

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Profanity/Violence

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Content Caution

Kids
Teens
Adults

Credits

Rating

PG-13

Readability Age Range

Author

Cast

Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett; Robert Pattinson as Henry Costin; Sienna Miller as Nina Fawcett; Tom Holland as Jack Fawcett; Ian McDiarmid as Sir George Goldie

Director

James Gray ( )

Distributor

Bleecker Street Media

Network

Performance

Record Label

Platform

Publisher

In Theaters

April 14, 2017

On Video

July 11, 2017

Year Published

Awards

Reviewer

Bob Hoose

We hope this review was both interesting and useful. Please share it with family and friends who would benefit from it as well.

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