The search for a rumored nation of people brings a cryptic explorer to the forefront of the raging jungle. Based on author David Grann’s nonfiction bestseller, ‘The Lost City of Z’ tells the incredible true story of British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), who journeys into the Amazon at the dawn of the 20th century and discovers evidence of a previously unknown, advanced civilization that may have once inhabited the region. Despite being ridiculed by the scientific establishment who regard indigenous populations as “savages,” the determined Fawcett, supported by his devoted wife (Sienna Miller), son (Tom Holland) and aide-de-camp (Robert Pattinson), returns time and again to his beloved jungle in an attempt to prove his case, culminating in his mysterious disappearance in 1925. An epically scaled tale of courage and passion, told in writer/director James Gray’s classic filmmaking style. The Lost City of Z is written and directed by James Gray, and is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity.
The Lost City of Z found a way into my heart that very few two hour plus films do anymore. This structure in storytelling and various depth in plots is the kind of justifiable leap that you take when it comes to an investment as big as this one (135 Minutes), and it paid off in presenting to me a film that touches so unapologetically on so many life themes about becoming the person we were destined to become. Sound cliche and a bit tacky, I’m sure, but James Gray’s masterful touch at bringing to life a story with such a massive following like this one, speaks volumes considering our current day release takes place more than one hundred years after the initial setting of this picture. At its core, The Lost City of Z is structured like a horror movie. Don’t believe me? A crew of men take a dangerous cross-world journey of uncertainty to clash with the boundaries of stepping on a land that is run by cannibals. But even so, Gray’s story dabbles in these bloody waters while still capturing an essence that very few nail on such a collective grasp of the details as this one does.
My mind raced at the very brutal consequences of time, and just how important of a hand that it played in Percy’s explorations. One thing that I loved so dearly about this movie was its jumbled sense of time misdirection, which is obviously that of intentional directing by Gray. My lone problem coming out of this film was that the jungle sequences sometimes blend together because there’s no sense of time translation in text, nor in physical features like different clothes or longer beards. Then it hit me; James uses this to establish the pay-as-you-play kind of rules to following your dreams and immersing yourself in imaginative waters. This theory of mine was made even more apparent when he includes text in every time jump in story while Percy and his crew are out of the amazon. To play further into my ideal of this, I believe Gray is showing us how easy it was for Percy to get lost in his own expedition, forgetting the humbling evidence until he gets home. We are treated to gut-wrenching visuals that depict his children and wife getting older, while our central protagonist (At least immediately) still looks the same. It’s touches like this that kept me glued to the on-going events that always seem to stand in the way of this passionate man that was once an order to explore, but has now become his life’s mission.
After you get past the first twenty minutes, the film constantly keeps moving, crediting that of storytelling that paces itself out accordingly in epic style fashion. The film’s responsible direction to show the audience how dangerous and taxing that a trip like this was in 1915 is one that I commend dearly, and this decision radiates effortlessly throughout the film. Physically in brutality, some characters are killed in the waters by creatures that they cannot see. Mentally, the exceeding limits of sanity and bodily torture are pushed through an endurance test of iron man proportions. It all sets up to a finale that has as much sentimentality in heart as it does fear in our confidence with Percy and how much age has finally caught up to him. I fear that some people will feel underwhelmed by the final shots of the movie, but I drank it in for the rewards it instilled into our lead protagonist. It is definitely the peaceful catch-22 that Percy needed, but from an audience standpoint, I can see some complaining about the juice not being worth the squeeze. I disagree because it’s never about what we see, it’s about what HE does, and in that regards, this feels like the peak of the mountain.
The technical tapestry provided some truly elegant aspects to the overall cinematography for Gray’s right hand man, Darius Khondji. As the director of photography here, Darius pops his colorful touch at just the right moments. From the grainy sun-eclipsing shading that vibrantly commute Percy’s enjoyable home life, to the blending of greens that overtake the screen with each trip for this mystical land, this film radiates the conflicting backdrops in land that constantly serve as a reminder just how far these men are away from home. I also greatly enjoyed the makeup work of the 12-person crew that brought the aging process to life in a faithful way for once in Hollywood cinema. It’s rare that I will commend a movie for this aspect because most of the time the aging process is presented in laughably bad context, showcasing an all grey wig, or skin so wrinkled that it looks like our characters have sat in the sun for too long. If you can’t do it right, just cast older actors to play the roles. Thankfully, this film’s production team accomplish so much by doing so little, and it’s in those light touches that we pick up on without being bashed over the head with its gimmick. For Charlie Hunnam, we are treated to a lighter shade of blonde than the one he adorns for the earlier acts of the movie, as well as some light aging around the eyes that tell of the stress that this character has endured. What’s even more impressive is that this crew does it without turning the movie into a laugh riot, something that goes a long way in my final grade.
Not to be outdone by the technical of the story however, the main trio of actors bring so much humanity and personality to their respective roles, each of them giving arguably their best performances to date. I had my doubts about how deep of an actor that Hunnam could be, but as Percy we get the dreamers protagonist who does so without feeling cocky or crass. Hunnam reminds me a lot of a young Brad Pitt for how he is able to emote empathy from the audience who see this man who practically has everything. This is a tough guy with loads of heart to boot, and Hunnam’s urgency brought goosebumps to me on more than one occasion in his fight against time. Sienna Miller also dazzles as Percy’s wife Nina. Miller herself always feels like a chameleon because she transforms her identity over and over again. I was awestruck at how I didn’t recognize her until an hour into the film, when she had been acting in front of me up until that time. Her identity became evident on a random expression that I otherwise might’ve went the whole movie uncertain at this new actress who is holding up her own against the boys. Robert Pattinson though, is the true surprise for me. As Henry, Pattinson commands a redemption tale through the eyes of a struggling alcoholic who now sees purpose for his life. He does it all in his best John Lennon appearance, and it is intriguing how easily this man loses himself in this role, despite a third act that is less than kind to the creativity of his character. Robert has earned a fan out of me because of his subtle delivery that constantly feels like the cloud of clarity for these characters. A cloud that rightfully earns him the status as Percy’s right hand man, a man who is always quick to cast a hilarious truth.
The Lost City of Z is easily the grandest surprise that I have had the pleasure of taking in this year. James Gray adds to an already astonishing list of visual accomplishments by succeeding at his most ambitious project to date; a nearly two-and-a-half-hour epic that pays homage to Herzog and Lean. Hunnam and Pattinson were made for the big stage, committing to a journey of ambiguity that like the water that surrounds them, always keeps rushing. When you walk out of a movie this long begging for more, it’s a sign of a modern classic, and Gray is happy to construct the kind of movies that make you think as well as gasp.