Genre: Action Adventure, Biographical.
Starring: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Edward Ashley, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero, Harry Melling, John Sackville, Adam Bellamy, Daniel Huttlestone.
Year Of Release: 2017
Certificate: 15 (UK)/PG-13 (US)
Runtime: 140 Minutes
Director: James Gray
Writer(s): James Gray
Synopsis: “A true-life drama, centering on British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, who disappeared while searching for a mysterious city in the Amazon in the 1920s.” IMDB
The best way to describe this film, based on true events about a real person, is to call it ‘The Real Indiana Jones’. With Fawcett hacking his way through the undergrowth with a machete, running from spear throwing cannibals and wearing a trusty fedora, it’s hard not to see why the famous exploits of this man inspired Indiana Jones.
But be warned, there are no booby-trapped temples, golden idols or Nazis or Russians hot on his heels here. No, this is a film based on the strength of the human spirit, how a passion becomes an obsession and the natural wonders of a then unknown world coming to light. The action is mild to non-existent and it’s a very character driven piece, but also a very satisfying visual one too. Don’t expect a rip-roaring jungle adventure here based on B-movies of the past – this is the REAL Indiana Jones where charting maps, slow treks up dangerous rivers and debates with politicians are key, with no fortune or glory in sight.
Charlie Hunnam, a relatively unknown to me, was only a name associated with the upcoming King Arthur film and his decline in playing Christian Grey. Good move there, because Hunnam carries this film on his broad shoulders, but plays Fawcett with a surprisingly large amount of likeability, pathos and charm. He looks like an actor who’ll be forced to spend most of the film with his top off to use those smouldering good lucks and beefcake body, but no. He proves he’s a good actor, and carries us on a near 2 decade journey from a young man with a desire to be something great, to an older man with an obsession that will never die. We see the effect of his work on family and friends, and I never once doubted Hunnam’s portrayal. He is a fine leader of men, a fragile family man and a noble gentleman to boot. And at certain points, I could see Hunnam evoke the manly charm of James Bond. Future 007, anyone?
The cast continues in strength with Robert Pattinson, who blows out his wooden teen vampire ‘Twlight’ role with the actual material to act and give an interesting character to work alongside Hunnam. Tom Holland pops up in the 3rd act as Fawcett’s eldest son, and is harmless enough if you look past just seeing Spider-Man. Sienna Miller seems to be demoted to supporting wife roles as late, but she does it so well from young doting wife, to elder supportive wife and mother. And of course we have Ian McDiarmid, who makes me smile when he speaks because you just hear Emperor Palpatine, regardless how dapper he looks and what he says. It’s all good fun.
A strong cast coupled with some stunning cinematography make this a gorgeous experience to invest yourself in. I didn’t clock one use of CGI but I know it’s there somewhere. I just didn’t see it as it must have blended in so well with the practical sets and real locations that it has been used for what it should be – enhancing the viewing experience and not distracting from it. Victorian-era England looks as you’d expect, with plenty of suits, impressive facial hair and well-spoken ministers. The Amazon jungle however is in a different league altogether – everything is real, and literally looks like something ripped from the National Geographic. The golden hue of the sun, the lush greens, earthy browns all bring this dangerous place to life.
When I see current, and future, comic book films praised on “striking cinematopraphy” this is made up 80% of CGI and bleak framing, it angers me when films like this display what true striking cinematography looks like and how it should be done with real sets, locations and sparse-to-no CGI used.
And in the jungle itself, we don’t need constant dangers that turn into stupidity like giant ants, hoards of bison or whatever, no. The danger is always present by simply presenting an unknown harsh environment and a group of well-bred white men who don’t know anything about it. We have a pretty nasty piranha attack, a stand-off with a jaguar and run ins with cannibal tribes. That’s it. Each situation is dealt with quickly and never drawn out, and it always moves the story forward, especially the tribal interactions which look and sound wonderfully authentic.
While the pacing dips a little when we are not in the Amazon, there is enough desire from audiences to see how and if Fawcett can overcome new hurdles in succeeding in his mission. We care enough to want him to, and we also want to find the city ourselves as we get so close before we have to come away. In each 3 acts of the film, we return to the jungle after mid-interludes, be it back in England or even at the Somme in WWI. Each act increases in desperation and danger the closer Fawcett gets, and we see the effect it has on him, his allies and his family which is sad to see at times, because all we want is for him to succeed.
This real life story helped change the world geographically, and also gave us the greatest cinematic adventure hero of all time. It also cumulates with a sinister and thoughtful mystery that was never fully resolved, and it leaves you in a very thoughtful way as the credits roll. It’s a good 2hr 20mins long, but for a film so fresh, absorbing and visually immersive, you’ll want to last it out to take this expedition into the unknown too.