“The Lost City of Z” recalls a classic form of cinema

James Gray is a filmmaker who often seems to wind up having the worst luck. Whether it’s with a distributor or with his star acting up, Gray can’t seem to catch a break once his film is in the can. This time around, Brad Pitt and Plan B funded The Lost City of Z, with Amazon Studios picking it up for distribution. Aside from an initial 2016 release being pushed to this year, there weren’t any real hiccups. After premiering to a strong reception last year at The New York Film Festival, it hits theaters this week, hoping to finally give Gray the larger platform that he so deserves.

The film, based on the book by David Grann, is a period piece about one explorer’s obsession. That individual is none other than British explorer Colonel Percival Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). Percy Fawcett has long explored the Amazon, but at the turn of the century he actually stumbles upon evidence that he believe signifies a long lost city and civilization. The modern exploration and scientific community scoffed at him, but with the support of his wife Nina Fawcett (Sienna Miller), Percy would return time and time again in search of what he called the Lost City of Z (or Zed). All through the early 1920’s, he would make the trip, often with cohorts like Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) and James Murray (Angus Macfadyen). In 1925, along with his grown son Jack Fawcett (Tom Holland) and previous companions, he set out on another expedition. He was never seen again. His disappearance fuels the end of the flick, but for the most part, it focuses on his life and obsessions. Gray writes the adaptation and directs. Also in the cast are Edward Ashley, Ian McDiarmid, Clive Francis, and many more. The gorgeous cinematography is done by the immensely talented and underrated Darius Khondji, while the score is from Christopher Spelman.

This movie, as you might have guessed from the description and Gray’s presence at the helm, is classical in just about every sense of the word. From the deliberate pace to the on location shooting, it’s a throwback in all the ways you’d like it to be. The acting is solid all around, but it’s Gray’s writing and directing, as well as Khondji’s cinematography, that stands out. Visually, this is sumptuous. Easily Gray’s most ambitious work, it really does show even more talent from an already phenomenal storyteller. If not quite as emotionally powerful as something like Two Lovers, it manages to take his impeccable period feel and transfer it to an epic palate.

So far, this is how I would rank Gray’s films to date:

6. We Own The Night
5. The Yards
4. Little Odessa
3. The Immigrant
2. The Lost City of Z
1. Two Lovers

Awards wise, it probably seems like technical categories or bust for The Lost City of Z, but Amazon will undoubtedly launch a broader campaign. Look for ads later on this year in Best Picture, Best Director (for Gray), Best Actor (for Hunnam), Best Supporting Actor (for Holland, Macfadyen, and/or Holland), Best Supporting Actress (for Miller), Best Adapted Screenplay (also for Gray), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Makeup & Hairstyling, and Best Original Score. Below the line is where this one will have a chance, specifically in Cinematography. It’s still early though, so there’s no way to know how this will all turn out. Keep it in mind, however.

This weekend, audiences can challenge themselves a bit with The Lost City of Z, as it’s a decently adult and throwback sort of film. Impatient viewers may struggle with this one, but it’s worth the time commitment. As you can see above, it’s one of Gray’s best movies yet. His three most recent outings are his three strongest, so he’s only getting better with age. Support a work like this and you’re supporting the type of cinema that’s all too rare these days. Give it a shot and see what you think. My hunch is that you’ll end up liking it quite a bit…

Be sure to check out The Lost City of Z, beginning its theatrical run on Friday!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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