James Gray’s new film, The Lost City of Z, is a drama- adventure based on the real life character of 1910-20’s British explorer Percival Fawcett, following him on the trail of a mythical city lost in the Amazon. It stars Charlie Hunnam (Sons of Anarchy) and Robert Pattinson (Twilight).
As opposite as it can be from more poetic art house adventure on similar subject, such as Werner Herzog’s Aguirre- The Wrath of God (1972), it is nonetheless effective and exotic, if conventional. It relies plenty , of course, on the artistic output provided by highly gifted cinematographer Darius Khondji (Seven, Fight Club, Amour, etc), fully capturing the essence of lights, shadows and movements.
The Lost City of Z basically aim, as in the director’s previous works (We own the night, The Yards, etc) at creating an overall ambiance in a straightforward fashion. Full sequences are patiently build into climax scenes. It goes from Percival’s life in the old world with hunting and warfare scenes, (he is a career army officer) to this exploration of uncharted territories of the «New World» with, at the beginning, confrontations with natives or some spicy piranha attack on the rivers of the Amazon. without over doing it – it is not an action film – it provides its share of thrilling moments. The director always proved he was good on these kind of premises and Z is no exception.
Gray’s screenplay, from the book by David Grann, may be the greatest flaw of The Lost City of Z as it is merely a simplified subtext to his visual ambitions, thus providing just enough insights (when back to «civilization» in London) on Percival’s actual findings and thoughts on his voyages. The general attitude of characters is not always plausible by the standards of the times it depicts and reflects more of an inclinations for today’s standards, despite fine acting by the cast under the circumstances. For example, although it boosts moving performance by Sienna Miller, as Percival’s wife, and she makes the best of it with limited screen time, the feminist perspective her character brings reflects more the concerns of our time period then the one depicted in Z.
Despite flaws, The Lost City of Z, is a beautiful and engaging cinematic piece.