MESSAGE IN THE MOVIES
Directed by James Gray. Starring Charlie Hunnam, Robert Pattinson Rated PG-13
A century ago, in a less enlightened time, the exploration of South America (and the Amazon River in particular) seemed a perilous and yet alluring opportunity for brave individuals to discover native tribes and lost civilizations. Theodore Roosevelt, following a failed attempt for a fourth term as President, joined a two-year expedition on the Amazon River that nearly cost him his life. Overseas, British colonialism was still going strong, with exploration teams traveling over the globe to lay claim to new territories.
The Lost City of Z tells the true story of Percy Fawcett (Hunnam), a British Army officer who first accompanies a team from the Royal Geographical Society of London – including his close friend Henry Costin (Pattinson) – to map out the border between Bolivia and Brazil. (Eventually he will stumble upon artifacts of a fabulous ancient city, including hieroglyphics and an ancient temple.) World War I delays his initial foray, but Fawcett will return on subsequent trips, filled with unknown sights as well as hardships.
There are some who have already established businesses in Brazil (including Portuguese rubber traders) and others who have perished along the way. Some members of Fawcett’s own team will lose their lives in skirmishes with the indigenous people. After returning home without conclusive evidence of Z, Fawcett is determined not to give up; he will soon set off into the jungle again to continue his quest.
What motivates a person to risk their life and embark on trips that will keep them away from family for years at a time? Initially, it is for his honor as a British officer (his father’s Army career was marked with shame). But after Fawcett proves his masculinity, why return? Is there something about the unknown that seduces a person with the combination of beauty and danger?
The film is filled with naturalistic beauty (with Columbia standing in for Brazil) by the great cinematographer Darius Khondji. The early-20th century art direction is stunning as well, with Ireland standing in for Great Britain.
If I were to describe The Lost City of Z in water park terminology, it is more “lazy river” than “rapids”. Although the length of the film (2 hours and 20 minutes) is a bit daunting, the movie needs this amount of time to tell its story. The last 20 minutes are most rewarding for the patient viewer.
According to the Internet Movie Database, when Writer-Director James Gray was putting this project together, he wrote to Francis Ford Coppola (who directed 1979’s Apocalypse Now) for advice about filming in the jungle, Coppola replied: “Don’t go.” I am glad that Gray ignored this suggestion, The Lost City of Z is a minor masterpiece that deserves to be seen on a big screen.
Three halos: A fascinating, leisurely paced, and unashamedly retro-macho story of redemption and discovery.
Two pitchfork: Brief scenes of violence; brief scenes of National Geographic nudity; mild swearing.
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Rev. Bruce Batchelor-Glader
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