David Grann’s 2009 book was a gripping real-life adventure story. The film is based on one element of the book, the career of Percy Fawcett. I suppose this was a sensible move, in order to focus the story, but it could have been more dynamic by alternating between Fawcett’s time and the present day investigations of the author.
Adventurer and military man, Percy Fawcett, is played by Charlie Hunnam, with Robert Pattinson as fellow explorer Henry Costin, Sienna Miller as Fawcett’s wife Nina and Tom Holland as son Jack. I think they are all excellent performances. I can’t help picturing Brad Pitt in the main role, as he was to be originally (he remained an executive producer). I was surprised and disappointed that Raleigh Rimell, Jack’s friend and the third member of the notorious 1925 expedition, was deleted from the story. I wasn’t expecting the film to be very historically accurate – after all, it’s based on a book which is itself based on real events – but the expedition is so famous that it seemed ridiculous to airbrush Raleigh out of history like that. I assume it was done to keep the focus on the father-son dynamics.
Adapting a non-fiction book for the screen and turning it into a coherent story will inevitably lose something from the original (see also A Walk in the Woods). The film of The Lost City of Z looks at the emotional cost to Fawcett’s expeditions and how his absences impact on his family. What’s lost is the wealth of information about the Amazon. Maybe it was best not to have all those horrible parasites and diseases included in the film, but still, the jungle setting wasn’t as gritty as it could have been. Writing the screenplay must have been a challenge for the director James Gray, because unlike a novel, there is no dialogue to lift. The drama has to be woven together from the non-fiction narrative.
In summary, the film is not as gripping as the book, but is well crafted and worth watching, if perhaps too linear in its storytelling.
Low-resolution film poster sourced from Wikipedia.