The Lost City of Z, rated PG-13
Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller, Tom Holland
Austin Family Critical Rating: 5 of 5 stars
Austin Family Family-Friendly Rating: 3½ of 5 stars
The enormously talented writer and director James Gray (The Immigrant, Two Lovers) is the rare filmmaker who still makes movies for adults. His latest, The Lost City of Z, is a mesmerizing adventure that ranks among his best films. There are so many movies in The Lost City of Z – a tale of madness and obsession, a rollicking journey down the Amazon River, a World War I battle movie, an investigation of British exploration and imperialism – and all of them add up to a hugely entertaining picture unlike anything else in cinemas. You can see the influences on display here – the journey down the river of Apocalypse Now (1979); the candlelit interiors of Barry Lyndon (1975); the restless spirit (and one great match cut) of Lawrence of Arabia (1962); the relentlessness of There Will Be Blood (2007) – and yet The Lost City of Z is uniquely its own film, very much in the style of Gray’s previous work.
The movie tells the true story of Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), a British colonel who, shortly before World War I, is tasked by the Royal Geographic Society to travel into Bolivia and help map a border between that country and Brazil. During his journey, Fawcett finds evidence of what he believes to be a lost city in the jungle – and upon his return to England, he insists on returning to Amazonia to find the civilization.
His wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), slowly becomes as obsessed with the mythical city as Fawcett himself – by the end of the movie, she’s lost in her own jungle, as beautifully visualized by the film’s haunting final image. Watching the picture a second time, I was struck by her subtle transformation over the course of the movie into believing deeply in Fawcett’s mission. In a way, The Lost City of Z is as much Nina’s story as it is Fawcett’s, and Miller’s performance is astonishing.
Along the way, there’s a fascinating conflict between Fawcett and James Murray (Angus Macfadyen), a fellow explorer who isn’t up to the grueling challenges of Fawcett’s second journey to South America, and ultimately endangers the lives of Fawcett’s men. It leads to a great scene late in the film in which Fawcett and Murray trade barbs at the Royal Geographic Society.
There’s an interesting dichotomy in Fawcett – he wants to rebel against the British empire’s treatment and estimation of indigenous people, and yet he adheres to his culture’s paternalistic mores when convenient at home, with his wife and children.
Gray’s film is a rich, classically made drama without a hint of irony. With The Immigrant and Two Lovers, Gray made his reputation as one of the great filmmakers of our time, and The Lost City of Z is an achievement of the highest order. See it immediately.
Jack Kyser is a graduate of Austin High School and New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts.