Director: James Gray
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland
Running Time: 141 minutes
Release Date: March 24
Gray by name and so often grey by nature; the work of this particular director is usually confined to dimly-lit rooms, tense conversations and the capabilities of one Joaquin Phoenix. Finally forced, admirably by his own hand, out of his comfort zone, James Gray has found himself where so many others have been lost.
Chief amongst those souls; Percy Fawcett. If you are unfamiliar with the name and the story, keep it as such, for The Lost City of Z trades on knowledge or lack thereof. It is a throwback picture in every sense, dealing with a bygone era onscreen and off – they really don’t make them like this anymore.
A soldier regarded for his exploration prowess, Fawcett was tasked with mapping the Amazon by the British government. Once there, he discovered what he believed to be the remnants of a lost civilisation and so an obsession was born, one that would ultimately prove his undoing. It’s the role of a lifetime for Charlie Hunnam, an actor so often derided for a perceived rigidity and lack of expression. He meets the task in earnest, delicately illustrating Fawcett’s desperate desire to restore honour to his family name and emerge as a hero. In less capable hands, Fawcett would register as a show-off bore. Hunnam imbues the man with warm qualities and deep flaws, never once chewing the extremely lush scenery when it must have been so tempting. In fact, he only ‘goes big’ once, and the moment in question absolutely calls for it.
He is surrounded by impressive support, not least the locations so lovingly captured and bathed in brilliant light by Darius Khondji. He and Gray take us from an army barracks in Cork, to plush dining halls, to treacherous rivers, to golden vistas and beyond, including a dramatic digression that plays out on a World War I battlefield. Based on true events – and adapted from David Grann’s book of the same name – The Lost City of Z cannot help but be repetitive from time to time. As such, the pacing can feel slack, the beats familiar. You’d maybe like to lose 20 minutes but even at nearly two and a half hours, you get the sense that the filmmakers have done their best to condense a seriously packed story.
And it is a story, as opposed to a swashbuckling adventure. There are no Indiana Jones-style death traps and quips. Instead, the perils are more relatable as Fawcett struggles to balance his quest with his personal life – his long-suffering wife, excellently played by Sienna Miller, is the kind of character so often sidelined in a film like this, but Gray really tries to make her into something more meaningful, though he doesn’t quite succeed. She closes proceedings as the centerpiece of a highly inventive shot that borders on camp but speaks to profound melancholy and infatuation.
The Lost City of Z is that kind of film, the kind of motion picture we so rarely see on the big screen nowadays. It wishes to challenge, to exhaust, to get under the skin and perhaps even irritate. Its leading light is equal parts dashing and dangerous in a terribly human way. The flaws are there for all to see, if you choose to look as deep as Percy Fawcett tried to.