New To Blu: The Lost City of Z (2017) - Reviewed

One of the most talented American directors working today, James Gray returns with an epic story about the cost of obsession and the power of conviction.  An alluring mixture of historical biopic and modern sensitivity, The Lost City of Z combines a wealth of relevant themes with pulsating imagery to present a harrowing journey of the soul.  Gray's renowned attention to detail is on full display, interwoven with an outstanding ensemble to recreate a century old mystery that continues to mystify historians and adventurers to this day.  

The Lost City of Z chronicles the events of the life of Percy Fawcett, a good natured and rigorously determined British explorer who disappeared in the Amazon with his son while on an expedition to find a forgotten city rumored to contain remnants of an advanced civilization.  The story spans almost two decades, highlighting Fawcett's personal victories and struggles, his complicated family life, and his outspoken beliefs on the nature of the human race.  Gray's screenplay builds the world around Fawcett in restrained, but elegantly constructed details that never encroach on the action as they unfold.  

His approach to the subject matter is an intoxicating mixture of reverence and creative license, reflected in the best performance of Charlie Hunnam's career.  In a time when good intentions can set social media sanctuaries ablaze, Hunnam's Fawcett is both decent and flawed, dedicated to his mission and blind to its eventually toll.  There's a remarkable scene in which Fawcett has to defend his theory on Z to a room full of pompous nobles in order to secure funding for his next expedition.  While Hunnam dances with words, humbly venerating the cultures of the jungle, the remainder of the room, representative of the ruling class, continues to view the tribes of the Amazon as nothing more than savages to be taken advantage of or killed.  This idea remains with the viewer just long enough for it to be plucked away when it becomes clear that Hunnam's Fawcett believes the tribesman are precious ends to his exploratory means.  There is no hero in Gray's world of uncertainty and The Lost City of Z triumphs as a result of this ambiguity.  

We have finally found the Golden Monkey!
Prepare a batch of bananas for he is hungry. 

Hunnam is supported by Sienna Miller who plays Fawcett's resolute wife, Nina. One of the many surprises is in how the central relationship is defined.  Given the time period, certain expectations are present on the surface; however the partnership beneath redefines preconceptions, illuminating the awful price of the pursuit of the unknown.  Miller is sorrowful, but not broken, and her scenes with both Hunnam and Holland are superb, showing the impossible complexities of parenthood with charm and adoration.  Tom Holland continues to perform as Fawcett's estranged son and it is in the final act that he slowly begins to shine. Robert Pattinson rounds out the cast as Fawcett's friend and partner, a rugged soldier with genuine grit and a sly sense of humor.  There are multiple cameos throughout, with Angus Macfayden stealing every scene in a villainous turn as a disgraced gentleman.  

The true heart of Z is legendary cinematographer Darius Khondji's wondrous visuals.  This is a beautiful picture that immediately enraptures with crisp overheads of battlefields and tight interior shots of smoky parlors filled with arrogant men.  The scenes in the jungle, particularly multiple stress inducing river sequences hearken back to not only the glory days of Francis Ford Coppola, but to the classics upon which Hollywood was built.  This notion of a golden age is ever present, but never brought to fore, remaining a whisper throughout the film's two hour-twenty minute runtime.  There are surreal rituals conducted under vacant moons and ghostly remnants of imposed civilization stand out among the trees like coffins, conjuring thoughts of both Werner Herzog and Aleksei Yuryevich German's tales of dangerous preoccupation.

The implication that this is a massive undertaking both in scope and meticulous design is immediately apparent from the first sun kissed frames and never lessens, with Hunnam's complete dedication coming full circle in an unforgettable climax that manages to tie the mammoth ideas of Gray's endeavor in a perfectly ambiguous bouquet of glory and defeat.  Available now for digital streaming, The Lost City of Z is one of 2017's greatest films and I strongly suspect it will remain such come December.   If you're interested in seeing something truly remarkable that delicately captures the magic of what films are all about, this experience demands your attention.  


-Kyle Jonathan