Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Lost City of Z

Based on the novel by David Grann, The Lost City of Z is a fictionalized story of Percy Fawcett’s exploration through the Amazon to find a lost city as he would go on various trips in his lifetime to find this mysterious city. Written for the screen and directed by James Gray, the film is a look into a man’s determination to uncover a legendary myth that would later become an obsession. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Angus MacFayden, Ian McDiarmid, Franco Nero, Harry Melling, Clive Francis, and Tom Holland. The Lost City of Z is a ravishing yet eerie film from James Gray.

Told in the span of 20 years in the early 20th Century, the film follows the exploits of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) who was a military officer that was asked by the Royal Geographical Society into surveying a land that is at the center of a border dispute between Brazil and Bolivia. This journey into South America and the Amazon would lead to this obsession in finding what he believes to be a lost city where the first idea of civilization began. It would be a journey that Fawcett would venture into through the course of 20 years where he would return to Britain with his findings only to be met with ridicule and skepticism. James Gray’s screenplay revolves around three expeditions Fawcett would make as he would often be accompanied by Corporal Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) in these expeditions since Costin does know a lot about the Amazonian rain forests. The first act is about Fawcett’s life as an officer in Britain as well as his first expeditions through the Amazon where he would make a discovery about the possibility of a lost city.

The second act is about another expedition with Costin and another soldier in Corporal Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley), who also took part in the first expedition, where they’re joined by famed biologist James Murray (Angus MacFayden) who is unprepared for the trek through the Amazon as he becomes a liability into the expedition that would be stopped abruptly due to Murray’s selfishness and the news of Archduke Ferdinand’s assassination that would start World War I. While it is obvious there are some dramatic liberties that do relate to Fawcett’s explorations as well as what happened to him in World War I, it does play into the fact that the man was devoted to his family including his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) whom he always turn to for advice. The third act is about Fawcett’s final expedition with his eldest son Jack (Tom Holland) in 1925 as well as the fame he received about his past expeditions before embarking on the journey that would eventually be shrouded with mystery.

Gray’s direction is definitely mesmerizing for the scope of the locations he captures as well as the sense of danger and mystery into exploring the Amazon. Shot largely on location in Belfast and other parts of Northern Ireland for scenes set in Britain with the scenes of the Amazon shot near Santa Marta, Colombia. Gray would create an atmosphere for the two different worlds where they both share an air of serenity and chaos. The scenes set in Britain would play into a world that is organized but also with an air of superiority towards their idea about the people in the Amazon believing to be savages. It’s an idea that Fawcett doesn’t agree with as Gray would use medium shots and close-ups in how characters interact with one another in Europe with some wide shots for some of the location. When Fawcett is at the Amazon with Costin and Manley, the direction is definitely looser but also with an air of unpredictability as it relates to the encounter with natives. Notably in the second act where Costin is able to communicate with the natives where he, Costin, and Manley make a major discovery about their way of living.

Gray would also play into this air of chaos that looms into Fawcett’s findings with those in the British government not impressed with his findings and claims while there would be a brief detour for a World War I battle scene where Fawcett has to lead a regiment with Costin at his side. It would include a small scene where Fawcett and other soldiers meet a fortune teller who is aware of Fawcett’s obsession with finding the lost city as she would tell him it is his destiny. The film’s third act does play into this air of intrigue in Gray’s direction into not just Fawcett’s return to the Amazon with his son Jack joining him but also what has changed in the years since his last major expedition. Still, Gray wants this final expedition to be more about the bonding between father and son who went through a period of estrangement as they would embark on a discovery that would create intrigue but also the idea that what they found is something much bigger. Overall, Gray crafts an intoxicating and haunting film about a man’s desire to find a lost city in the middle of the Amazon in the course of 20 years.

Cinematographer Darius Khondji does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography with the usage of sepia-drenched lighting for some of the nighttime interiors in Britain as well as a few nighttime scenes with the usage of fire while emphasizing on low-key colors for some of the exterior scenes in the jungle as it’s a highlight of the film. Editors John Axelrad and Lee Haugen do excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts for some of the action and suspense including a few montages that play into the surrealism that Fawcett would encounter. Production designer John Vincent Puzos, with set decorators Maria Andrea Rangel and Naomi Moore plus senior art director Fiona Gavin, does amazing work with the look of the homes that the Fawcett families lived in as well as the site for one of the tribes that Fawcett and his men encounter where they stay briefly yet peacefully. Costume designer Sonia Grande does fantastic work with the costumes from the dresses that Nina wears as well as the suits and clothes that the men wore during those times.

Hair/makeup designer Nana Fischer does terrific work with the look of Costin with his beard as well as some of the hairstyle that Nina sported in those times. Special effects supervisor Simon Cockren and visual effects supervisor Eran Dinur do superb work with some of the special effects that include bits of set dressing as well as the look for some of the animals Fawcett and his team encounter. Sound editor Robert Hein does incredible work with the sound in capturing the atmosphere of the jungles and for the World War I sequence as well as the quieter moments in the film. The film’s music by Christopher Spellman is wonderful for its orchestral score that play into the suspense and drama for some of the scenes set in the Amazon while music supervisors George Drakoulias and Randall Poster provide a mixture of classical and traditional pieces of the times as well as opera piece that Fawcett and his men would hear early in the film.

The casting by Kate Ringsell is great as it feature some notable small roles from Nathaniel Bates Fisher and Daniel Huttlestone in their respective roles as the adolescent and teenage versions of Brian Fawcett, Bethan Coomber as the seven-year old Joan Fawcett, Elena Solovey as the fortune teller Madame Kumel, Pedro Coello as Fawcett’s native guide Tadjui who accompanies on the first expedition, Harry Melling as a young government official in William Barclay who mocks Fawcett’s findings, Tom Mulheron and Bobby Smalldridge in their respective roles as the young and adolescent Jack Fawcett, Edward Ashley as the often-reliable Corporal Arthur Manley who joins Fawcett and Costin in their expeditions, Clive Francis as the RGS official Sir John Scott Kettle who is a supporter of Fawcett’s expeditions as well as the few that believed him, and Ian McDiarmid in a terrific performance as Sir George Goldie who heads the Royal Geographical Society in which he assigns Fawcett to survey the land between Brazil and Bolivia to settle their border dispute.  Franco Nero is superb as the mysterious Baron de Gondoriz as a man who lives in the jungle as he would lend Fawcett information as well as a guide. 

Angus MacFayden is fantastic as the famed biologist James Murray who joins Fawcett for an expedition that he was unprepared for as he would be a liability and would later try to discredit Fawcett for his own selfish reasons. Tom Holland is excellent as Jack Fawcett in his teens and young adulthood as a young man unhappy with his father’s reputation and not being around only to later join him on the final expedition where he would more than acquit himself into life in the jungle. Sienna Miller is amazing as Nina Fawcett as Percy’s wife who is treated as an equal to her husband as well as help him find information and such while knowing that Jack wants to join his father. Robert Pattinson is brilliant as Corporal Henry Costin as Fawcett’s right-hand man who had been to the Amazon and help him find certain pieces as it’s a low-key yet reserved performance from Pattinson that allows him to show so much by doing so little. Finally, there’s Charlie Hunnam in an incredible performance as Percy Fawcett as a man determined to find this lost city where Hunnam display a sense of humility and curiosity as well as knowing that not everything he does is the right decision as it is Hunnam giving one of his finest performances of his career so far.

The Lost City of Z is a tremendous film from James Gray that features great performances from Charlie Hunnam, Sienna Miller, Robert Pattinson, and Tom Holland. Along with its gorgeous visuals, beautiful locations, intricate sound work, and eerie music, the film is definitely a mesmerizing look into a man’s obsession to find a place that is considered mythical but also discover wonders that traditional society would have trouble understanding. In the end, The Lost City of Z is a phenomenal film from James Gray.

James Gray Films: Little Odessa - The Yards - We Own the Night - Two Lovers - The Immigrant (2013 film) - Ad AstraThe Auteurs #67: James Gray

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