Review of reviews: Film
The Lost City of Z
Directed by James Gray (PG-13)
An explorer chases a jungle myth.
James Gray’s adaptation of David Grann’s 2009 nonfiction best-seller is “the kind of grand adventure epic few people know how to make anymore,” said Stephanie Zacharek in Time. The director of 2013’s The Immigrant “does nothing by half measures.” So when British explorer Percy Fawcett steps into the Amazonian jungle in 1906 in what will become a multi-expedition quest to locate a mythical city, we plunge with him into a world of wonders, horrors, and intense emotions. And we know that one day the jungle will swallow Fawcett up. It’s a great story, “but not a true one,” said Hugh Thomson in The Washington Post. Far from the champion of indigenous people Charlie Hunnam plays on screen, Fawcett in real life was a self-mythologizing racist who never discovered anything and whose mistreatment of Amazon natives likely got him killed. “Substantial liberties” were taken with the story, but for a purpose, said Ignatiy Vishnevetsky in AVClub.com. Gray is “a neglected American master,” and in Fawcett he’s found a character who embodies “both the poetry and pathology of exploration.” Fawcett escapes a world of snobbery and war to seek answers in the wild, and he is consumed, “literally and figuratively,” by the questions he can’t answer.
A Quiet Passion
Directed by Joseph Cedar (PG-13)
A portrait of Emily Dickinson
Like Emily Dickinson’s poetry, the new biopic about the 18thcentury literary icon is “rich in detail, deeply enigmatic, and weighed down with a kind of sparkling, joy-tinged sorrow,” said Alissa Wilkinson in Vox.com. Dickinson, of course, was a recluse. She lived most of her adult life in her Amherst, Mass., childhood home, obsessed with death and with her eternal fate, and the movie wisely focuses less on Dickinson than on time’s effects—“the way we change, make errors, grow older, commit sins, repent, and suffer.” Playing Dickinson, Cynthia Nixon “gives a controlled yet somehow epic performance,” said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. In early scenes, the poet and her siblings engage in “laugh-out-loud displays of Jane Austen–esque wit,” but the final act “becomes rough sledding” as Dickinson travels a gauntlet of loneliness, illness, and quarrels. What’s remarkable about Nixon’s performance is “how few pains she takes” to “sweeten” Dickinson, said Anthony Lane in The New Yorker. Often mean and ungracious, the character “scrapes against the grain of the movie’s decorum, and asks, What kind of soul did you expect, at the root of poems like these?”
Directed by Joseph Cedar(R)
A New York noodge lands a powerful friend.
Richard Gere “has aged into a first-rate character actor,” said Chris Nashawaty in Entertainment Weekly. In this modern fable about a gladhander who fakes his way into a lucky break, the 67-year-old former matinee idol creates a character who’s both likable and tragic: Norman’s sole purpose in life seems to be forging personal connections with New York’s powers that be, but his peskiness ensures that most such “friends” keep their distance. That changes when he buys a $1,200 pair of shoes for a low-ranking Israeli minister who, by chance, becomes Israel’s prime minister three years later. Gere plays his role with just the right amount of self-awareness, and the “strikingly charismatic” Lior Ashkenazi is perfect as his new benefactor, said David Ehrlich in IndieWire.com. But as Norman navigates a web of international intrigue, the “quasi-screwball” screenplay overheats, resulting in a comedy with “too much chutzpah and not enough charm.” In the end, though, you might glimpse something selfless in Norman’s lifelong hustle, and something redeeming in the fall he’s made to suffer, said A.O. Scott in The New York Times. “To put it another way: This is a rare Jewish joke in which the punch line lives up to the delivery.”