Sunday, October 16, 2016

NYFF Spotlight: The Lost City of Z

I’m thrilled to be covering a number of selections from the 54th Annual New York Film Festival, which takes place September 30th-October 16th.

The Lost City of Z
Directed by James Gray
NYFF Closing Night Selection

No matter when it takes place, there is a certain excitement and sense of wonder that comes with exploration. In the present day, technology has advanced to the point where lands are no longer uncharted and travel from continent to continent takes almost no time. A century ago, however, there was still much to be learned about different regions of the world. In 1906, one British explorer mapping the Amazon came across what he thought might be the remnants of a civilization far older than his own and began a lifelong quest for answers that could greatly alter the findings of recorded human history.

Tasked with following the path of a river in Brazil to help quell international tensions in the region, eager young soldier Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) is astounded by what he finds at the farthest reach of his journey: pottery in the middle of the jungle that indicates a people once lived there. Returning to his family in Europe, Fawcett spends minimal time with his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) and the children he barely gets to know, focused instead on going back to the Amazon in search of what he calls the “Lost City of Z” with equally curious fellow explorer Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) at his side, charging ahead despite dubious support back home and a lack of belief that what they are looking for – a primitive civilization potentially more advanced than their own – could even exist.

Gray’s film runs a staggering two hours and twenty minutes, covering Fawcett’s twenty-year obsession with his fabled lost city, interrupted by the advent of World War I and eventually passed on to his eldest son Jack (Tom Holland). Much of the film’s runtime is spent on the river or in the jungle itself, as a white European does his best to seem nonimperialist and pay the societies they encounter a respect rarely afforded to them by people with his color of skin. Fawcett is a man far ahead of his time, undeterred by the limited thinking of his peers or the real dangers that lie ahead. It’s a compelling story that doesn’t often match its excitement in its presentation, finding solid moments on which to coast but not recreating that same enticement for the rest of the time. The cast, led by a determined Hunnam, do their job well, but the extraordinary charisma and sense of humor displayed by Gray in a press conference following the film are sadly seldom seen in this sometimes underwhelming epic.


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