James Gray’s films have always been a struggle for me to get into, so The Lost City of Z wasn’t one I was looking forward to so readily. The sort of material that Gray was set to cover in here wasn’t something I would have expected of him so I was hoping my issues with his body of work would be infrequent here. Thankfully it was the case with The Lost City of Z and as a result, a great film had come right out. For not only is The Lost City of Z the most ambitious that I have seen James Gray reaching through his career as of yet from what I have been able to catch, it also rings back to a classic era of adventure films with its own eerie spin – one if anything that helped in making a great theatrical experience inside of itself, and maybe more.
Based on the true story of Percy Fawcett, Charlie Hunnam stars as the lost explorer as he goes out on a venture through the Amazon in order to find a city hidden within the jungle. In an age where these sorts of films are rare, James Gray comes out with The Lost City of Z and it plays out as a glorious ode to films of the sort like Aguirre, the Wrath of God but in the story which it tells by itself comes something of greater heights. For we have a story about how this quest has ended up making Fawcett almost an alien to his own society because of what people have made of the expedition, and how it has in turn strained his own relationships at home before he and his son had ultimately went missing. From the sound of this, Gray’s ambitions already are made clear and soon they set up perfectly the eerie nature of what is coming forth along the ride.
What I expected to see of James Gray had indeed found itself present in some way through the pacing, which has always been one of my own problems with his work. It was hard enough trying to get along with the movement for the first half of the film, but nevertheless the set pieces and the imagery were hypnotizing enough to a point it became less of a bother. Melodrama was also one of my own gripes with the work of Gray but The Lost City of Z never finds itself having time for such arcs to be formed in order to elicit an emotion from his viewers, but I never found it present within the setting in motion here. The downward spiral of Percy Fawcett isn’t something that hasn’t been done before when working with films that take place within this setting, and although I could have wished for something more to have been done with a familiar concept, what I still got was compelling enough as is.
This film works at its very best when it comes to how it sets up a landscape for its characters to inhabit as they set themselves out for a quest to find the “lost city of Z” as mentioned by the title. As a matter of fact, the nature of The Lost City of Z almost feels as if it wishes to go against what is normal for the adventure genre and it only sets up a fitting tone to capture a labyrinthine geography for the jungle. There’s no particular feeling of excitement coming as our characters find themselves going deeper into the jungle just trying to find this “lost city,” just a looming feeling of dread. It would be one thing to characterize The Lost City of Z as distinctively an anti-adventure film in this regard, but there’s another thing in describing the alienating feeling of being trapped inside of such an exotic landscape as made clear from the painting-esque cinematography, hypnotizing one’s eye and drawing the soul much closer.
Although Hunnam’s performance is set to become the highlight for many as he leads the way, I’d also like to take a moment to shine some light on Robert Pattinson’s supporting role as Corporal Henry Costin. As shown from his own ventures with Cronenberg, Pattinson has come a long way from the bad rap the Twilight series would have laid on his namesake but here he finds himself landing inside of another role to prove his own skill, in a role where he has been made unrecognizable. They’ve all become a part of a new world to the point that familiar faces have now turned into a lost object for them, and every feeling captured carries great power inside of its delivery. While I’ve never exactly been a fan of Gray’s, there’s no denying that he can only strive to reach for the best when it comes to directing his actors as shown here.
There’s one thing about The Lost City of Z that still hangs inside of my head amidst the painting-esque quality of the cinematography, it’s the ending shot. Something that James Gray has always been forming so perfectly, the ending shot in here just signifies that everything is okay even with all the doom that has come by. But that’s a perfect thesis for James Gray’s work, we find ourselves drawn in by something that we think is beautiful only to be lured into a trap and thus we just allow everything to move the way it is because it’s acceptable. I look forward to a rewatch of this, on the count that it still haunts me as I keep thinking about it. Gray’s film tests patience, but something rewarding comes out of The Lost City of Z there – because a ride that one will find themselves in for is one of the best shot films of the year.
Watch the trailer right here.
All images via Amazon Studios.
Directed by James Gray
Screenplay by James Gray, from the book by David Grann
Produced by Dede Gardner, Jeremy Kleiner, Anthony Katagas, James Gray, Dale Armin Johnson
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland, Angus Macfadyen, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero
Release Year: 2016
Running Time: 140 minutes