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With his last three films, James Gray has established himself as the modern cinephile's director of choice. We Own The Night, Two Lovers, and The Immigrant are each engrossing, poetic, and take a subversive view on plots and films we've seen before, while also avoiding a mainstream audience to keep his fanbase intact.
The Lost City Of Z has the same traits as the above trifecta of films, as James Gray takes on an epic story that harkens back to the Golden Age of Hollywood. To films like The Treasure Of The Sierra Madre and Apocalypse Now, directors like David Lean and John Ford, and titanic themes of obsession, duty, honor, prejudice, and reputation, all of which you can't help but get wrapped up in.
The epic story is that of Perry Fawcett, a British explorer who made several attempts between 1906 and 1925 to find the Lost City Of Z in Brazil, while in between he also fought in the First World War. I'll just leave the overview of the film at that, because any further research you do might hamper your enjoyment of the proceedings.
James Gray immediately feels at home and confident within such a grandiose tale of discovery and exploration, establishing the period, Perry Fawcett and what he's looking to achieve, as well as the family that he has to leave behind to do so, while transporting us from Ireland to London to South America with a smooth, and inviting rhythm. Once in South America the treacherous, life-threatening conditions, as well as the threats from tribes, are underlined, too, but not in the face of the gorgeous greenery and naturalism. This alluring aspect of the film isn't rammed down your throat, instead the serene beauty and quiet of the period and its setting, as well as Gray's patient plotting, subtly grows and grows, and gives The Lost City Of Z a completely different texture and feel to its brash peers.
The Lost City Of Z's cast perform gainfully in the adverse conditions. As Perry Fawcett, Charlie Hunnam does everything required, coming off as ambitious, naïve, heroic, out of his depth, and wide-eyed, while still keeping the character grounded. Robert Pattinson is ruggedly unrecognizable as Corporal Henry Costin, while Sienna Miller and Tom Holland chime in with unspectacular support, but the entire cast lacks a combined sparkle or individual charisma to really standout or be memorable.
But for all the films positives, its paced and structured in such a fractured manner that you repeatedly feel yourself being yanked out of your enjoyment like a baby being awakened from its nap. It also doesn't help that both Perry Fawcett's desire to find the titular vanished metropolis and why he's so adamant he can find it aren't emphatically enough established, too. And while there's enough beauty, peacefulness, and detail in the locale, its inhabitants, and the plight of the explorers to keep you intrigued for the most part, its unseemly aimlessness keeps you at arms length.
The Lost City Of Z's positives more than outweigh its negatives, though. Refreshingly ambitious, sumptuously shot, and boasting a beguiling premise, The Lost City Of Z really does have all the hallmarks of a cult classic, and it will undoubtedly grow to be more and more appreciated over time, it's just too disjointed and frustrating to fully savor in the moment.