Fate lingers over James Gray’s filmography, and it does so in spite of the narrative scope. Whether the filmmaker explores the underbelly of organized crime in one of New York’s five boroughs, or he’s on an epic quest for a legendary city, his stories are always intimate and driven by a sense of purpose, as if his heroes’ destiny is but an inevitability.
In The Lost City of Z, based on Percy Fawcett’s mythical Amazonian explorations, we get a sense very early on of how the tale will unravel and, as the narrative progresses, Gray instills a meditative melancholy that is part calming, part transcending. The film, brilliantly directed and exquisitely shot by Darius Khondji, offers a multilayered critique of the class system and renders itself in touch with modern sensibilities by highlighting a problem often found in the mentality of decision makers: moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean moving wisely. Fawcett comes to this understanding while in search of his life’s meaning, which he attributes to medals on his chest and the imminent discovery of the century. The journey transforms his mind and in many ways his soul. What follows is, much in vein of the operas Gray holds in such high esteem, a deconstruction of the family structure and its role in the film’s satisfying but tragic conclusion.
Charlie Hunnam is subtly commanding in the lead role, and offers what will undoubtedly be one of the year’s finest performances. Alongside him are the ever fascinating Robert Pattinson, the exquisite Sienna Miller and the film’s biggest revelation, Edward Ashley.
Z might deceive those expecting the type of adventure Indiana Jones would embark on. But it’s an important film, like no other in the current cinematic landscape. And it might just be Gray’s most accomplished project to date. The filmmaker, often under-appreciated, is methodic in his approach, driven by instinct and a sense of obligation to the arts. His frame often carries a deep passion and his necessity to transcend the medium. Fortunately for the audiences, he often does.