| 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.
The Lost City of Z is a welcome change of pace in a season where production value sells over story. This is a wonderful film that restores faith in the traditional art of movie making. Richly shot on 35mm where every frame feels like an exquisite painting, carefully constructed by a filmmaker at the top of his game in James Gray. The backdrops of England, the Western Front and Amazonia all have interest on every inch of the screen and yet for all this color and texture, it is the characters that leave you thinking long after exiting the theater.
Having recently read Grann’s book, I was curious to see how Fawcett’s fascinating story would translate to the big screen. Instead of opting for a descent-into-madness story (and thus sticking closer to what actually happened), Gray decides to find the poetry in the story, offering one of the most stunning conclusions I’ve seen in a movie this year. The final few minutes really affected me, presenting a beautiful thesis on obsession and striving one’s goals.
Covering some 20 years and three expositions, Grey’s film is epic in its historical span as well a its thematic scope, exploring the depths of obsession that drive Fawcett’s determined quest through its various motivations. From the familiar desire to define ones life through a search for greatness and thirst for knowledge, to the reigning social hierarchy that divested his family of its standing and relegated him to a life of empty servitude. Grey brings his interest in societal outsiders and their conflicts within it to the classic adventure tale, peering intensively into the explorer’s mindset with a remarkable emotional and psychological acuity.
Destiny lingers over James Gray’s filmography, and it does so in spite of the narrative scope. Whether the filmmaker explores the underbelly of organized crime in one of New York’s five boroughs, or he’s on an epic quest for a legendary city, his stories are always intimate and driven by a sense of purpose, as if his heroes’ destiny is but an inevitability. He has shown a penchant for world building and attention to detail the likes of which we rarely see anymore.
He makes his films feel like epics of cinematic days gone by, and they rarely fit traditional formula, eschewing predictability by examining the unknown about life. Staying true to its similarities to the movies of an older era, The Lost City of Z is shot on 35mm film and it looks beautiful. Shot by Darius Khondji (Seven, The Immigrant), the darkly lit ballrooms, the strange glow of a boat going down a river and the shots of Fawcett walking through the forest with the tribes of the areas he explores, are almost indescribable in their beauty. It’s as though we are right there with them and we are getting a clear glimpse into this world that no longer exists.
It’s like observing a painting where each image has such richness and texture. Film can provide an authenticity, a naked honesty that a lot of digital cameras still can’t provide and Gray plays on that here to provide a work of art that’s simultaneously out of this world and ingrained in our world. The fight between digital and film is one that film is clearly losing, but similarly to the fight between seeing something on a laptop and seeing something in a theater, Gray is making the case for it while he still can.
“You’ve come to doubt its existence.”
“No, I only doubt that Z will provide all the answers you seek from it.”
Charlie Hunnam is excellent as Percy Fawcett, convincingly portraying an educated man battling an arrogant, skeptical society which views him as being part of a caste just below theirs. My previous view on Hunnam has been that he was a pretty face that Hollywood was trying to make star out of, but I walked away from this film thoroughly impressed with his skill. Sienna Miller continues to impress me as an actress in her turn as Nina Fawcett and is genuinely one of my favorite actresses at the moment. Once known just as much for being tabloid fodder as an actress, her long string of standout performances had earned her recognition as one of the best working actresses right now. Robert Pattinson also shines in a supporting role as Henry Costin, Percy’s number two on expedition. Pattinson did so well in fact that I had no clue it was him at first (not the first time this happened). He continues his post-Twilight reinvention as more than just a teenaged heart-throb.
The Lost City of Z is definitely worth your time and attention. A great movie and easily the most gorgeous one I’ve seen this year so far. It is a two and a half hour film that feels shorter due to remaining engrossing throughout, as well as being thought-provoking. If you are a moviegoer who believes that blockbusters are becoming over saturated, supporting a film like The Lost City of Z becomes even more important. Original films like this will not continue to be made if no one watches.
Entertainment is changing and with the death of old Hollywood comes the death of many of the flaws within it, but James Gray’s The Lost City of Z plays like the final argument for saving all the good of a dying art. Every shot, every sound, every word is like an artist who’s at the final stage, playing their instruments like they know that it’s all crumbling around them. This is a film about doing as much as humanly possible with the little that we are provided.
‘The Lost City of Z’ gets a 9.3/10
Shot on 35's Rating Sheet: 9.5 – 10.0: Excellent! 8.5 – 9.5: Fantastic, but with minor flaws 7.5 – 8.5: Great, but with issues 6.5 – 7.5: Okay, but with major issues 5.5 – 6.5: Had potential, but falls flat hard. 4.5 – 5.5: Disaster!
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