As Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam) departs for the jungle for what will be the last time, he and his son Jack (Tom Holland) lean out the window of their train car, waving at the people who wait just to catch a glimpse of the explorers. As they pass the gathered crowds, so too do they pass the sleeping form of Percy’s wife, Nina (Sienna Miller), and his other two children. It is as if he is dreaming them, as if time has begun to collapse as Fawcett’s adventure comes to an end—or a beginning.
To watch James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is to be caught in that dream with him. Movies are often cited as a form of escapism, but there are very few movies that are quite as transporting as this one, and it deserves to be in contention as one of the best—if not the best—movies of the year. (It’s streaming on Amazon Prime, and I would recommend seeing it on the largest screen possible.)
Admittedly, it’s not a particularly easy sell at almost two and a half hours long. It’s not really a brisk movie, either, though as a proponent, I can’t say that I ever felt weary of the movie’s runtime. It’s also focused on such a specific story and era that anyone not in the mood for a “period drama” might overlook it. But all it takes is the film’s opening—the crackling of torches, the hum of Christopher Spelman’s score—and the spell is cast.
It’s Ravel’s second suite of his score for the ballet Daphnis et Chloé that plays over Fawcett’s final journey into the Amazon. It’s a composition that is just as lush and verdant as the film and the jungle into which Fawcett is about to descend, and its place in the impressionist movement is also fitting for the way in which Gray makes movies. At the risk of sounding pedantic, Gray is a filmmaker whose visions are of the sort that Hollywood doesn’t indulge anymore.