Oscar History

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NYFF: The Lost City of Z

Here's Jason reporting from NYFF on the Closing Night film from James Gray.

Most of us aren't fortunate enough to have our lives live themselves in a perfect three-act structure. "Here I was born, and there I died," says the ghostly Madelaine in Vertigo, with an entire lifetime intuited by a comma - that's just second-act stuff, after all. Colonel Percival "Percy" Fawcett -- the real-world explorer whose explorations formed the basis first for David Grann's book The Lost City of Z and now the movie from The Immigrant director James Gray -- made three trips into the Amazonian jungle searching for his El Dorado, lending his life-story the perfect apparatus for yarn-spinning. A beginning, a wandering middle, and something approaching an end...

Charlie Hunnam plays Percy as a man with something else always on his mind - somewhere ahead, just out of focus. He's both determined and dreamy - an old-fashioned kind of movie fellow, then. Charlie wears that mantle (and the uniforms) well, and so does the film. The Lost City of Z is very old-fashioned - both epic and intimate, somehow folding the entire first World War in as a momentary side-note. (And here I must insert a very special shout-out to Robert Pattinson, who went and became a fantastic character actor while nobody was looking.) It's all quite big and very handsome, the 35mm film-stock at times sweating its own edges thanks to Darius Khondji's humid cinematography. You're definitely gonna feel the mud under your fingertips before the trip is through.

But the film is also new-school, made clearly, defiantly, here and now, and so we take some (not a lot, but some) time for the Brazilian guides to side-eye these foreign dummies and prove their mettle, and also for Sienna Miller to harumph over the treatment of women-folk while angrily adjusting her hat, a literal nod to suffragette solidarity. Sisters were doing it for themselves... mostly because the men were elsewhere, I guess? She reads letters through the light of lacy, blowing curtains with sad panache, though.

Snark aside at times The Lost City of Z strains to meet our always loping madly ahead modern day obligations, telescoping its own tale backwards through a sort of pulsating White Male Savior Complex - the subtext of the Blonde Man discovering the Brown Man becomes text basically immediately, and Gray moves mountains, triumphantly at times, to deal with that up front and center. It is admirable, but it is also what it is - it's why a film like Embrace of the Serpent is a revolution while this one's picking up the slack. But it is some very pretty slack.

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Reader Comments (3)

I may have to check this out simply because I think James Gray is a VERY underrated director and I loved both TWO LOVERS and THE IMMIGRANT, and this seems like quite new territory for him.

October 20, 2016 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

Thank you so much for your positive comments on Robert Pattinson. Many of us HAVE been noticing his skill all along as a character actor. He's done so many uncharacteristic roles in order to slough off the pretty boy impression. It's a shame that The Rover, Cosmopolis, Childhood of a Leader and others weren't viewed more widely. It's also unfortunate that it's taking so long for him to be rid of the crazies from the Twilight era who project onto him. He needs to lose those fans and gain new ones and I'm proud that he's been brave enough to approach the directors he wants to work with.

October 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterOh yes

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