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Movie Review: #TheLostCityofZ

The beauty of The Lost City of Z is also an engrossing and cautious tale of obsession.

Review by Matt Cummings

One of the joys I get as a reviewer is to watch films that I otherwise would not have the time to experience as an average moviegoer. Like you, such films would have resided on a wish list, with some eventually finding their way into a DVR to be picked up months afterward. Seeing as many films as I do is many times a gamble that fails to pay off, but with The Lost City of Z it's a stirring reminder of why I signed up for this job.

Col. Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is a strong-willed and dedicated British Army officer who's sought to change his family's fortunes after his father's scandalous suicide. Even though he makes short work of a beast during a hunt, Fawcett won't be invited to the dinner table because, as one adviser puts it, “He's been rather unfortunate in his choice of ancestors.” But his luck is about to change, having been recruited by England's Royal Geographical Society to chart the Amazonian wilderness. Percy's intelligent and spirited wife Nina (Sienna Miller) isn't happy as he risks terrible danger to become one of England's great explorers. Although he returns in one piece, Percy has been fundamentally altered by the experience: he's heard of a great lost city called Zeb and after finding pottery on one site, he's determined to find the city. But the world will soon enter The Great War, delaying Percy's dreams while Nina stays at home to raise their children, including the confused and angry Jack (Tom Holland). In the years to come, Fawcett's view of the world will radically change in his hunt for Zeb, eventually swallowing up the intrepid explorer with his son in tow, leaving Nina to hold out hope until her final days.

The Lost City of Z is a return to classic film making in every way, from the epic nature behind Writer/Director James Gray's sweeping cameras to the elegant production design and costumes by Sonia Grande. Gray's visuals draw you in, like Fawcett himself, determined to find this lost city in an effort to somehow bring balance to a world that has a limited view of tribesmen. The cost of that obsession is high, but Gray never turns his back on it, encouraging his stellar cast to push their performances beyond mere simplistic tropes. Every one here has a story to tell, from dutiful wife to angry son, obsessive explorer to silent witness. But The Lost City of Z is so much more: about halfway through it becomes a war film, soon after morphing into a shrewd political tale, only then to journey into a powerful father/son story and then a wife's tale of hopes dashed. It's great to see such a multi-layered film succeed in so many ways, as we're first led to believe this will be a strictly Amazon survival flick. Not so, as Fawcett's return home only increases the stakes for his eventual return to the jungle and the terrible cost it will eventually exact.

The Lost City of Z is bolstered by a terrific score by Composer Christopher Spelman, who mixes period sensibilities with ethereal electronic tones to craft a unique sonic landscape. Again, Gray encourages Spelman to extend his considerable talents around The Lost City of Z to make music that feels as big as the story Gray is trying to tell. We get top-flight performances from Hunnam, who's front and center throughout most of the film. He brings a warmth and trusting nature to Fawcett, injecting him with a sense of infectious adventurism that inspires us to drop everything to join him on the quest of a lifetime. Pattinson comes along most willingly and his understated performance is just what Hunnam needs to expose both of their strengths. I've loved most of what Pattinson has done since the Twilight series, because he's much like this film, stretching his wings to tackle a difficult subject with independent sensibilities. This movie could have revolved around Miller by herself, as Nina's story of sacrifice was nearly as engrossing as Percy's. For such a strong-willed woman to exist in the 1920's wasn't uncommon, but Miller imbues Nina with intelligence, grace, and uncompromising values who pays nearly as high a price as Percy.

If anyone doubted the potential behind Holland, this film will more than satisfy any concerns that Spider-man wasn't just a flash in the pan. Jack is a confused and angry young man who desires (and deserves) to know what's made his father stay away for so many years. He exists in Percy's shadow, unable to manage himself out from underneath it; and so instead of trying to do so, he becomes a part of it to understand it better. Jack matures right in front of us, right up to the powerful ending, and Holland proves that he will be dramatic force to be reckoned with even when he dons the red and blue tights. And yet with all of these accolades, I expect The Lost City of Z won't appeal to many moviegoers hungry for the onslaught of mayhem that will make up Summer 2017. But it's a beautiful and cautionary tale nevertheless that demands your attention and holds it with some of the best performances I've seen this year.

Hewn from the rock of grim obsession, The Lost City of Z sports an excellent cast, superior direction, and a sweeping score, all of which returns us to the classic era of film making. I'm surprised this story hasn't been told before, but even that won't be enough to draw in a mainstream audience. Regardless of where you stand on period drama pieces, I encourage you to give this one a chance as you won't get anything this intelligent until at least October. The WWI sequence alone is worth your time. The Lost City of Z feels like a movie from a different time, struggling (like its lead) to discover its place in the world. The result makes it highly recommended.

The Lost City of Z is rated PG-13 for violence, disturbing images, brief strong language and some nudity and has a runtime of 141 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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