A remarkably-realized film about the great British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, yet it is James Gray’s patience with pacing that is most rewarding, with the film unfolding like a traditional biopic in the mould of an inspired tone poem on obsession and mystery.
Dir. James Gray
2016 | USA | Drama | 141 mins | 2.35:1 | English
PG13 (passed clean) for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity
Cast: Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland
Plot: 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.
Awards: Official Selection (Berlin)
International Sales: Sierra/Affinity
Subject Matter: Moderate
Narrative Style: Slightly Complex
Pace: Slightly Slow
Audience Type: Slightly Arthouse
(Reviewed in theatres – first published 17 Apr 2017)
On paper, James Gray has had an unbelievable career. Making his feature debut with the Venice Silver Lion winner Little Odessa (1994), each of his next four films competed for the Cannes Palme d’Or, most recently with The Immigrant (2013). His latest breaks this string of “successes”.
Premiered at the New York Film Festival, and landing a less noteworthy slot as a Berlinale Special Gala title, The Lost City of Z is, however, a great film in the traditional biopic sense. It has the allure of a classic prestige picture that unfolds slowly, mesmerizing with its visuals and storytelling.
Adapted from David Grann’s non-fiction book of the same name, The Lost City of Z is about the great British explorer Col. Percival Fawcett, whom we learnt from the history books as the man who, in 1925, mysteriously disappeared in the Amazon while looking for an ancient lost city. He had made several trips to the hostile jungle prior to 1925, obsessed with finding a tribal civilization that predated the European colonialization of South America.
“To look for what is beautiful is its own reward.”
Gray captures both his journey and obsession with a clear eye, and in the process, rekindles the magic of moviemaking in relation to exploration and mystery. Shot largely in the natural forests and rivers of Colombia by the outstanding Iranian cinematographer, Darius Khondji, the film is bewitching to behold, reminding especially of Herzog’s Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972) and parts of Coppola’s Apocalypse Now (1979).
Charlie Hunnam—of Pacific Rim (2013) fame—plays Fawcett in a capable performance. He is backed by the almost unrecognizable Robert Pattinson, who sports a thick beard as Fawcett’s sidekick. Siena Miller, who plays Fawcett’s wife, is also very good, providing the emotional anchor of the film.
The Lost City of Z is beautiful and polished, no doubt a remarkably-realized film, yet it is Gray’s patience with pacing that is most rewarding about the experience. One might see it as an inspired tone poem—and perhaps feel an inconspicuous undercurrent flowing through the movie, like a koi gliding in a pond. It tells the story in this manner, where time, image and themes are interwoven, cumulating in its haunting final shot.