3 stars (out of 4)
No matter what he would have brought to the party as Christian Grey, the actor would have been forever stamped (and, let's get real, ridiculed) as the super-grumpy billionaire cracking whips in a Red Room. Instead he’s able to seamlessly lose himself in complicated roles — and, as a fun byproduct, people can take his work seriously. In the latest example, he compels as a rugged adventurer in the rich drama The Lost City of Z.
Hunnam plays Col. Percy Fawcett, a British Army Officer at the turn of the 20th century. He’s accomplished but not exactly rolling in money (“He’s been rather unfortunate in his choice of few ancestors,” sums up one superior). Still, he’s respected enough that he’s asked to go on a two-year expedition in the Amazon and report back on the relatively unchartered territory. He leaves his wife (Sienna Miller) and young son behind and sets sail.
He’s not alone on his trip. Army comrade Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson, excellent and virtually unrecognizable in a thick beard) is also aboard, along with a few guides. Together, they wade through the dense rain forests in South America on a mission to … all right, the pacing is sluggish enough to warrant a fun daydream about Hunnam and Pattinson chatting about Kristen Stewart’s impressive post-Twilight career off-camera.
The jolt arrives when a flurry of arrows are launched at the explorers. They get a glimpse of exotic-looking natives, and Fawcett picks up a piece of pottery that has no place lying among the trees. Could it be … .an ancient civilization living in the jungle? Is is possible that a secret city has never been discovered? Fawcett is certain of it.
For the next decade, the man becomes obsessed with what he dubs the “City of Z.” He returns home to his family, only to set out again in hopes that he will find his pot of gold. No dice. Upon his second homecoming, his angry, indignant son Jack berates him for turning his back on the family. His fixation is temporarily delayed as he decides to fight in World War I. He nearly dies in battle. By his 50s, he’s still not over it. Though he dubs himself “an old Bastard,” he plots out a third expedition, this time with his now-grown son (Tom Holland, i.e., the new Spider-Man) in tow.
What happened next remains a mystery to this day, inspiring nearly a century of folklore and theories. Director James Gray (The Immigrant, The Yards) gives it an especially intriguing spin.
From Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark to Cheryl Strayed in Wild, cinema is filled with tales of determined adventure-seekers. Despite the many obstacles in their way, they’re all guided by an insatiable curiosity to touch the void and see what lies just beyond the horizon. Fawcett falls into the category, with one unique and fascinating caveat: He truly believes that finding the City of Z is his destiny, even if he has to die trying to find it. Because of the calming spiritual guidance, his pursuit doesn’t seem like a reckless endeavor. He carries himself with a special wisdom that he passes along to his wide-eyed son.
There’s something delicious about Spider-Man, Edward Cullen and a would-be Christian Grey coming together in an old-fashioned drama — one that's so prestigious, it premiered as a centerpiece selection of the high-brow-only New York Film Festival last fall. Here's your chance to see these three strapping British actors in all their natural glory. Step it up.
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(The Lost City of Z opens in theaters on Friday, April 14.)