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« What did you see this weekend? I caught a masterpiece! | Main | Tribeca 2017: Dog Years »
Sunday
Apr232017

Review: "The Lost City of Z"

by Chris Feil

A sprawling, formally immaculate epic like James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is a rare enough to seem like a novelty these days, and Gray’s rendering makes the film feel no less precious. It plays almost like a delicate jewel box on the screen, as if any minute it will crumble to our modern touch. Z looks and breathes of a bygone era.

Charlie Hunnam stars as Colonel Percival Fawcett, an unheralded military man who rises to prominence for exploring the uncharted Amazon in the early 20th century. His first expedition leads to an obsession when he discovers signs of an ancient ruins, suggesting a developed civilization previous undiscovered by western eyes. Fawcett’s three increasingly less successful journeys could be seen as indicative of the virtue or punishment of an obsessive goal, depending on your vantage.

While the film’s trajectory is familiar to epics over the most recent decades, what sets the film apart is its complex emotional terrain...

As much as Gray portrays Fawcett’s plight as noble, he provides as much room for notions that he is deluding himself. Hunnam plays his drive as compulsory, rooted in his deep need to prove himself - his playing of the man’s righteous and humbled dualities is his best work to date. Robert Pattinson’s dutiful right-hand man Henry Costin is all not-so-blind faith, ever aware of the physical and mental labors to service another’s ambition. As Fawcett’s innocent bystander wife Nina, Sienna Miller provides the film’s emotional compass, a raw nerve of stifled longing and aching hope.

Gray himself feels closer to his subject than his previous films, the betrayal of Fawcett’s allies and proficiency outside of the social and organizational hierarchy having their own parallels to the director. It’s hard to deny the more intense connection towards his protagonist than he’s ever afforded, Fawcett’s aims always written as a nobler, elemental cause. It actually does wonders for the chilly distance that his film’s have had.

However, The Lost City of Z is sibling to Gray’s The Immigrant in more ways than one. The rather stately narratives appear beige on the surface, but have more surprising themes that emerge on the fringes. Here Gray gives considerable thought to not only the personal costs of striving for a life’s goal, but also what is sacrificed by those standing in the shadow of our dreams. The final shots of both are richly evocative and quite similarly composed, but in Z we’re left with a more despairing feeling. Darius Khondji’s lensing is as pristine as ever, visually capturing the jungle without a repetitiveness that sometimes affects the film itself.

Often wondrous to look at, the film’s majestical design is packed to the frames limit without overwhelming the story.  Similarly, Gray deftly handles tackles topical issues of racism and environmental responsibility without overplaying the allegory. If the film does repeat itself over its occasionally sluggish pacing, it does so with plenty to savor if your mind drifts.

One rigorous and gorgeous film, The Lost City of Z exhausts the body and soul.

Grade: B+

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Reader Comments (6)

is sienna miller going to play every actor's supportive wife until the academy notices..?

April 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterpar

Nice review. I w don't know why but I wasn't expecting this to be good. If it's good it is def my "type" of movie.

April 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

I haven't seen it but of course it's good. It's James Effin Gray!

April 23, 2017 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

par. Academy not notice her until now because her notorious reputation as homewrecker ( most infamous one is Jude Law) but she is really talented actress.

I glad it's Brad's production company who produced his latest film considered sh*t weinstein did toward him with Immigrant ( as well with Bong Joon-ho Snowpiercer)

April 23, 2017 | Unregistered CommenterAmazingAmy

Saw it last night. It's an absolutely gorgeously shot movie, but at times it felt stilted to me. It felt like it was trying to be a period piece at the same time that it was trying to make Fawcett (and his wife) more sympathetic and progressive and thus more palatable to modern sensibilities.

It is very much in a similar vein as "The Immigrant," but I much preferred the latter.

April 24, 2017 | Unregistered Commenterlylee

for a movie that's about one man's drive to explore the world, the exploration scenes fell flat. But every time Fawcett was back home, entagled with his wife, his son, and in his struggle to breakout of the classist box he was in his birth, the movie snapped to life. Obv Gray's heart was in those struggles as weel, as they are a consistent in all his movies.

April 24, 2017 | Registered CommenterMurtada Elfadl

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