James Gray’s latest film has been described by various parts of the media as an instant classic, with continual praise being steeped upon it from all angles. “Sublime”, “the revelation of the year”, “a rare piece of contemporary classical cinema.” All phrases used to describe “Z”.
The only thing I can relate to less than these words is the film itself, which I found to be a veritable snoozefest.
The true story revolves around British explorer Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam). Pawcett was a member of the British army who, at the request of the British Royal Geographical Society (headed up by Ian McDiarmid), goes on a mapping expedition to the border between Bolivia and Brazil just after the turn of the 20th Century and finds a hitherto unknown tribe. The film tells of his initial and return trips there, along with his relationships with his peers, his expedition team (including an unrecognisable Robert Pattinson), his wife (Sienna Miller) and his children (one of which is eventually portrayed by Tom Holland).
Ironically, “Z” doesn’t tread brand new cinematic ground. It has the feel of a film that was made many decades ago. This isn’t necessarily a good thing. For when The Artist paid tribute to film’s silent era, or when La La Land paid tribute to the great MGM musicals, we remembered great experiences we’d had enjoying films throughout the ages.
I know “Z” feels like an old film, but I don’t think that old film is any good.
Sadly, with so much time to think about the film between the interesting parts, it becomes easy to over-analyse, a subconscious decision my brain made to keep itself entertained. The heart of the issue may well be Hunman himself, or the character he is portraying.
It can’t be his fault – we already know he’s a good actor. So the blame should lie with either the director or the writer. Unfortunately for James Gray, he is both.
Too often we skipped over interesting parts of his life. The Great War is skipped over and we get a snapshot in the form of him leading a troop into battle in the Somme. It’s actually one of the highlights of the film, portrayed without any Hollywood bravado, but we are left to guess about critical developments in his personality, the strain left on his family, and the strengthened relationship with his companions Henry Coston (Pattinson) and Arthur Manley (Edward Ashley).
This companionship is sadly dropped before the third act gets going, which is a shame as it’s the part of the film that really held my interest.
The strange result is that we end up with an over-long story that feels lethargic, which covers a man’s desire to further his family name and his military career, his strained relationship with his wife and children, his growing relationship with his expedition companions and a small amount of professional rivalry with a fellow explorer.
We get both too much and too little, which is a great shame.
There’s enough to keep the interest, but somehow it doesn’t feel right.