Wednesday, April 19, 2017

James Gray's amazement, THE LOST CITY OF Z, tells of British exploration in the Amazon

An unusual combination of intimate family drama, adventure spectacle, and thoughtful, sometimes near-mystical philosophy in which these genres, which could hardly be more different, meld in a most beautiful and affectionate manner, THE LOST CITY OF Z is the kind of movie that will probably stick in the minds (and hearts) of intelligent audiences long after other, more heralded attractions have come and gone.

The work of writer/director James Gray (shown at left) -- whose earlier family dramas from Little Odessa (1994) through Two Lovers (2008) were always fraught and fascinating, until he hit that weirdly-phony-but-gorgeously-photographed bump in the road from 2013, titled The Immigrant -- this new film is not only his best yet, it may very well become a part of the movie canon in terms of exceptional "exploration" films.

What Mr Gray chooses to show and tell us, as his movie moves back and forth between early 20th Century England and several trips to the Amazon jungle in South America, gives us a rich and surprisingly deep portrait of British family life and in particular one man's (the explorer Percy Fawcett) desire to discover what he can about earlier civilizations, along with his deeply help conviction that what unites the world's many "tribes" is their common humanity.

This, of course, runs afoul of the then-held belief of white male British superiority over all else, just as it runs counter to the prevailing notions of the United States' crass and despicable current leader and his money-grubbing, white-supremacist notions. Yet, so strongly does explorer Fawcett believe in this, and so thoroughly does he abide by this in his words and deeds, that this character, played with great strength and precision by actor Charlie Hunnam (above and below) in what is certainly his finest role so far, is finally, if strangely, triumphant. (What a blessing for us and for him that Hunnam didn't have to star in the crapola Fifty Shades of Gray and its sequel, as was initially announced.)

Whether this actor is addressing a roomful of his peers, as below, or engaging in family discussion or discipline, Hunnam is always on target, and his combinations of strength and generosity, manliness and honor combine to form a unusually memorable character. He is able to convey both period believability and the kind of inner character turmoil that neither knows nor demands any particular time frame.

In the able and vast supporting cast are Robert Pattinson (below and barely distinguishable, so immersed is this actor in the role) as Fawcett's second-in-command,

Sienna Miller (below) as his able and enduring wife,

and Tom Holland (below, at right) as the older version of Fawcett's eldest son, who is initially angry with his father but eventually accompanies him on his final journey.

If there's a villain in this mix, it would the character of James Murray (played with a subtlety that turns encouragement into menace by Angus Macfadyen, below), who initially backs financially and even accompanies Fawcett on the voyage until his fear and irresponsibility take over. (Note to explorers: Never allow an overweight crybaby to join your party.)

Certain critics (The New Yorker's for one) have objected to the lack of "madness" in this adventure film. Yet Gray offers both suspense and surprise on these Amazon journeys. But because he is more interested in ideas than action (Percy Fawcett's actions are as much of the mind as of the body), the filmmaker keeps his movie grounded in these ideas, the major one being of our common humanity.

Offering up the typical fighting between the natives and the white explorers/colonizers would have only delivered the usual us vs them, good vs evil -- which is exactly what he entire idea of this film is against.

Instead Mr. Gray gives us one of the most memorable, beautiful finales in the canon of exploration. The final scenes will haunt your memory -- but in the most mysterious and hopeful of ways.

Mr. Gray has always been most interested in telling a good story, and in The Lost City of Z he has finally given us a great one -- and told it in the manner most appropriate and remarkable.

From Bleecker Street and Amazon Studios, the movie opened in a limited run last week and this Friday hits theaters all across the country. Here in South Florida, it will play the Miami area at the AMC Aventura Mall 24, AMC Sunset Place 24, Regal South Beach 18, CMX Brickell City Center 10, O Cinema Miami Beach, Tropic Cinema Key West; in  Broward at the Classic Gateway Theater, Regal Oakwood 18, AMC Pompano Beach 18; and in West Palm Beach-Ft. Pierce at the Cinemark Palace 20, Regal Shadowood, Movies of Delray 5, Movies of Lake Worth,Paragon Wellington 10 AMC City Place 20, Downtown at the Mall Gardens Palm 16 and the AMC Indian River 24 (in Vero Beach). Wherever you are, to find a nearby theater, simply click here.

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