The Lost City of Z (4 out of 4 stars)

★★★★

Movies like The Lost City of Z infuriate me.

It’s not that the movie is bad. Actually, the movie is excellent, for reasons I’ll break down in just a moment. What angers me to my core about The Lost City of Z is that no one is going to see it. $100,000,000 of old-fashioned, on-location , near-flawless filmmaking is going to essentially go to waste. Instead of watching a legitimately outstanding movie like Lost City on its opening weekend, moviegoers went to go see the eighth Fast and Furious movie on its second weekend and a Disney documentary about pandas. Go figure. For the uninitiated, the film, based of the novel/biography of the same name, follows the story of British colonel Percy Fawcett, who went on three separate expeditions searching for a lost city in the Amazon in the early 20th century, only to go missing with his son on his third and final one in 1926.

On a technical level, this movie transcends even the wildest of expectations. This movie was actually shot on location in actual jungles, and from what I could tell, also utilized natural lighting, adding continuous layers of authenticity to the film. And it shows. Aside from two animals that I could tell were computer generated, this movie feels incredibly organic and gritty. The high contrast shadows cast by the natural lighting in the jungle and some of the more unpleasant domestic scenes and layers of intensity to their proceedings, while the full lighting emphasizes the inspiring and more emotionally satisfying moments. Honestly, it just goes to show how good this movie really is if I can talk extensively about how brilliant something as insignificant-seeming as lighting is. And that’s ignoring a haunting yet at the same time very hopeful score, and some of the most beautiful natural footage I’ve seen in a movie, all shot through a color palette that imbues the film and the story with a real sense of timelessness. Combine all these things with varied and thematically layered cinematography, and you have yourself a visual poem, courtesy of writer/director James Gray. As a result, you end up running the entire gambit of emotions watching this movie. You feel happiness when Fawcett reconnects with his wife, occasional levity when a character makes a well-placed quip, and intense anxiety as Fawcett and company traverse the dark and mysterious rainforests.  As for flaws, the first five or so minutes of the film are a bit slow, and outside a deeply effective final shot, the second half of the third act is a bit anticlimactic and oddly-paced. Other than that, this movie is essentially flawless.

But when push comes to shove, this movie wouldn’t work without the contribution of Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett. I’ve sort of been on the fence about Hunnam’s ability for a few years, given that he struck me as just another blandly handsome white actor in the vein of Joel Edgerton or Joel Kinnaman, but any reservations I had about his ability evaporated the second the movie ended. This movie is entirely focused on his character, and he commands every single second of it. This is one of the best performances I’ve seen so far this year. Hunnam’s performance and the brilliant character make Fawcett captivating in essentially every scene, be it mundane or filled with action. The character never strikes you as crazy or delusional for seeking out this lost city. By going with him on his journey and seeing things through his eyes, you realize that Hunnam’s character is not even really an idealist, but in reality a very pragmatic, dedicated, and earnest human being that makes him instantly relatable. You get a deep sense of his shortcomings with his family as a result of his expeditions, his ambitions and hopes for the positive impact his discoveries might yield, and his virtues during and after the expeditions that make him easily identifiable and interesting, even if the story he was in wasn’t. He’s the kind of hero that used to define old Hollywood: recognizably heroic but admittedly undermined by his shortcomings and obsessions, much like Charlton Heston in Ben Hur.

Please, the handful of people who actually read this, go see The Lost City of Z. This movie is flopping harder than a professional soccer player, and it really doesn’t deserve to. Take a chance, because they don’t make movies like this one anymore.

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