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James Gray's "The Lost City of Z" is a movie where all the elements are there compelling story, fascinating location, strong cast, good performances, painstaking craftsmanship but the whole is less than it somehow should be.
Using the book by David Grann as his source, writer-director Gray ("Two Lovers," "We Own the Night") tells the story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who is introduced as a British Army officer whose hopes of advancement are thwarted by his lack of social standing. To secure some glory and rebuild his family name, he takes an assignment with the Royal Geographical Society to lead an expedition to map the border between Brazil and Bolivia.
Leaving behind his loyal wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), Fawcett employs a savvy assistant, Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson, virtually unrecognizable behind spectacles and a bushy beard), and ventures into the jungle. Fawcett's discoveries of natives whose civilization predates Europe's are met with scorn back in London. So he mounts a second expedition, bankrolled by a nobleman, James Murray (Angus Macfadyen) but Murray's presence on the trip proves a hindrance.
Throughout his adventures, Fawcett theorizes an ancient city in the Amazon jungles, which he dubs "Z" (or "Zed," as the Brits say it). The hope of finding "Z" eventually propels Fawcett, after World War I, to attempt one last expedition, joined by his now-adult son Jack (Tom Holland).
Gray captures the thrill Fawcett apparently felt from exploration, and the perils behind every twist in the trail. He draws a strong performance from Hunnam ("Pacific Rim"), who maintains Fawcett's sense of adventure over the movie's 20-year span.
Still, there's something aloof about "The Lost City of Z," as if Gray's search for a deeper meaning became as challenging as Fawcett's pursuit of his legendary lost city. The result is a beautifully mounted but emotionally distant drama.
'The Lost City of Z'
A British explorer ventures into the heart of the Amazon in this well-staged but oddly aloof drama.
Where • Area theaters.
When • Opens Friday, April 21.
Rating • PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity.
Running time • 141 minutes.