Col. Percival Fawcett was like Harry
Faversham in The Four Feathers,
except it was his breeding that was suspect rather than his courage. There was
nothing Fawcett could do to change his lineage, so he definitely believes he
has something to prove. As Fawcett sees it, the Amazonian rain forest is the
place to do it. He will return several times to continue his obsessive search for
a mythical fallen civilization in James Gray’s adaptation of the bestselling
nonfiction narrative The Lost City of Z,
which screened as the closing night selection of the 54th New YorkFilm Festival.
If you had to share a foxhole with an
officer, Fawcett would a good choice. He would certainly seem to be part of the
privileged class in today’s world, but not enough so for his contemporaries.
Consequently, he has no medals to show for his lifetime of military service.
Fawcett keenly feels such slights, so he embraces the opportunity offered by an
attachment to a Royal Geographical Society’s mapping expedition in Bolivia.
Although things turn dire rather quickly, Fawcett and his comrades Henry Costin
and Arthur Manley will successfully complete their objective. Along the way,
Fawcett picks up the scent of an ancient fallen city buried within the jungle.
It might just be the fabled El Dorado, but Fawcett prefers to call it Z (or
rather the British “Zed”).
Fawcett will return with subsequent
expeditions hoping to find Z and the glory that would come with it.
Unfortunately, the money for his second campaign comes with participation of
his benefactor, alleged explorer James Murray, whose girth and sloth weighs
down the party like an anchor. Meanwhile, Nina Fawcett waits patiently at home
with their increasingly resentful eldest son Jack.
Naturally, Gray goes to ridiculous lengths
to suggest Fawcett was more culturally sensitive and humane than your average
colonial glory-hunter. Frankly, it feels like a case of protesting too much,
but at least it doesn’t waterlog the on-screen adventure.
The sweeping visual scale and lush,
shot-on-location backdrops represent a welcome throwback to epic filmmaking in
the tradition of David Lean and Alexander Korda. Cinematographer Darius Khondji
(who also lensed The City of Lost
Children) fully capitalizes on the verdant vistas, probably setting himself
up for a second Oscar nomination. Yet, Gray and company show more interest in
the Fawcetts’ private family life than Henry Hathaway allowed for the Bengal
Charlie Hunnam is clearly comfortable returning
to his Northern English roots as Fawcett. Despite his limited range, he nicely
conveys the human foibles driving Fawcett’s manic compulsion. Likewise, Sienna
Miller teases out a fully dimensional portrait of his loyal (but maybe not
quietly so) wife Nina. Robert Pattinson (the Y-chromosome Jennifer Anniston)
completely disappears into the role of flinty Henry Costin to an admirable and
almost shocking extent. Yet it is Angus Macfadyen (Robert the Bruce in Braveheart) who really supplies the
X-Factor as Murray, Fawcett’s appropriately flamboyant antagonist.
It is strange to imagine a reasonably proper
British officer slogging through the South American rain forest, but Gray
adeptly positions him as an inspirational tragic figure rather than the
cautionary sort. He also recreates the horrors of WWI just as well as anything
you will see in Testament of Youth.
It is a good, solid historical tale of derring-do, but the fact that such films
are now the preserve of private equity productions and film festival premieres
rather than the Hollywood studio system (such as it is) happens to be rather
depressing. Recommended as a sweaty, slightly Conradian cinematic outing, The Lost City of Z is due to open in
April 2017, after screening as the closing film of the 2016 NYFF.
Labels: James Gray, NYFF '16, Robert Pattinson, Sienna Miller