Bleecker Street Media 2 hours 30 minutes PG-13
Here is a film that is rich in detail about a man who had a obsession. He wanted to prove to the world his theory of the existence of early South American civilization. His quest at the beginning of the 20th century was more than a challenge. How he got backing from the Royal Geographical Society and his family is amazing.
Percy Fawcett was a British Army officer and explorer who was certain there was a lost city in the South American jungle that predates European civilization. He was so obsessed, he left his wife and family behind 7 times to try to find it.
Director James Gray read the book by David Grann about those expeditions and made the movie the hard way. He says the biggest problem was having too much story, but the easier part was knowing where he had to go with it. Planning is everything to Gray. He shot on 35 mm film, (not digital), moving cast, crew and equipment on location in the jungle and on the river under difficult conditions. It’s reported that Gray wrote Apocalypse Now Director Francis Ford Coppola for advice before starting the film and the great director reportedly said “Don’t go.”
Gray was very animated and entertaining talking about what his experience was like at a Chicago Film Society screening and we were there.
Charlie Hunnam plays Fawcett in the film which was Executive Produced by Brad Pitt. Pitt was originally planned to play the explorer. Hunnam even looks a little like Pitt in some of the scenes. He lost 50 pounds during the shoot!
Sienna Miller plays his wife, Nina, who had to hold down the fort while he was gone. She plays a strong woman who wanted to go with him at one point. You won’t recognize Robert Pattinson as Harry Costin, Fawcett’s trusty aide-de-camp, in full beard. Facial hair was a sign of those times. Director Gray says that presented a real problem for the makeup team in terms of continuity. Gray groaned saying even the slightest difference from scene to scene would force the make-up team to stop filming in order to reshape mustaches and beards. Tom Holland, who plays Fawcett’s son, Jack, had to have a fake mustache because he’s not old enough to grow his own.
Fawcett had to fight the skeptics about his determination to keep returning time and again to prove his theory. Gray tackled 3 of the 7 expeditions in this film. He also created some composite characters to condense the film down from what he kidded would have been 17 and a half hours long.
You see tribes of indigenous people attacking Fawcett and his men on the river and in the jungle. The visuals of burial grounds filled with skulls would have turned us around, but apparently it didn’t phase these brave adventurers.
How the explorers survived the conditions as well as the attacks is astonishing. They nearly starved. Wonder how Craft Services got there to feed the cast. And Gray told us that they had to clear a runway so a small plane could fly the day’s film cans out for for developing in London. It would take days to find out if the film actually arrived in good shape.
The story of Fawcett’s quest is beautiful and beautifully intense. Hunnam makes for a convincing explorer, negotiating the terrain and with the tribes. The scenes of Fawcett debating the members of the Royal Geographical Society are chaotic. He had to make his case so he could continue going back to prove what he thought was there. Director Gray makes you feel as if you are in the room in the middle of the scrum.
This is also a family drama and Fawcett also had to convince his wife and children each time he took off. His eldest son, Jack, felt particularly abandoned when his father left on expedition. Finally, Fawcett takes his son along on his last expedition to find the ancient city. Do they succeed?
Percy Fawcett’s persistence to follow his obsession continually tests his endurance and resolve. It’s worth investing the 2 hour and 20 minutes to find out if he really found his lost city.