Spike Island, 1906. A hunting party is chasing a doe through clear fields, the men on horseback stumble over each other, they are in competition. As the doe glides into the woodland one hunter strays from the path, risking his own safety in pursuit of his quarry. The hunter is Percy Fawcett (Hunnam) and his gamble is successful, if not a little reckless. He stares down at the dead doe and looks dissatisfied, his life crawling back into view, thrill of the chase subsided. This cycle of disassociation and bitter success is the focus of the biographical The Lost City of Z, as Fawcett dedicates his life to finding evidence of a forgotten civilisation deep within the Amazon, casting aside his responsibilities in the process.
James Gray explores Fawcett's existential pressure with a quiet and rhythmic pace. A call to adventure, signposted from the outset using the intoxicating soundscape of the Amazon, humming along to the beat of far off drums. This feeling of immersion is challenged regularly as Darius Khondji's cinematography is intelligently played against the Amazon to Fawcett's own presence. As the earthy noise ebbs and flows the camera remains tight and enclosed on him and his party of explorers, his desire surpasses its own subject as they move continually from one episode to the next.
Charlie Hunnam makes use of Fawcett's solipsism, giving a stoic performance blended with a physical current of restless energy which reveals a great helplessness in his character, a sense of wanting to be lost at sea. It is Sienna Miller's performance, however, that shines as a lighthouse throughout. As Fawcett's wife 'Nina' she exists in the periphery, but her struggle as a woman of ambition is made apparent as Percy's determination is shown for all its delusion in the face of Nina's true conviction and strength. Two films about two people are at play here and the disconnect is sometimes jarring, the only connection being the colour pallet of greens and yellows - organic in the Amazon and toxic at home.
For its even, detailed character studies, The Lost City of Z makes compelling viewing, however, its objectivity makes its more adventurous scenes feel hollow, serving to hammer down a statement made about Fawcett's character time and time again. The commitment to follow him through his stubborn quest left me wanting more of the family drama at the true heart of the story.
On this great adventure I felt homesick.
There and Back Again... and There and Back Again.