Doing David Grann justice: The Lost City Of Z, 2017's best film so far


Though you might not have heard of him, David Grann will soon be a film-making titan.

A New Yorker 'reporter at large', Grann writes non-fiction for the weekly publication with a panache and style you might expect from a fiction writer. His reportage typically focuses on thrilling (though never salacious) exposes; stories that leave you wondering why you have not heard of them previously. It's not far off the style of Capote; narrative non-fiction or the non-fiction novel, whichever way you like.

His published collection of stories, The Devil And Sherlock Holmes, was followed by two feature-length non-fictions; The Lost City Of Z and, earlier this year, Killers Of The Flower Moon. The latter is in pre-production with Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio. Several of his New Yorker stories are at various stages of adaptation; True Crimes, a US/Polish production, is due later this year. Old Man And The Gun, starring Robert Redford and Casey Affleck, will arrive next year. A Foreigner, based on a Grann highlight (A Murder Foretold), has bumped around various homes and currently sits with Oscar Isaac and Alfonso Gomez-Rejon.

The Lost City Of Z, the first of Grann's works to make it to the screen, holds not only promise but the title of the best film of 2017 so far.

Adapting Grann should in theory be simple, because he writes 'scenes', as a fiction writer predisposed to screenwriting might. But the nuance of why Grann's stories are so successful is in the detail. The above could be terrible, a fundamentally bankrupted version of events, told with a great degree of entertainment and perhaps little dedication to accuracy. But that's not how Grann reads. Instead, his prose makes the culprits more vivid, the heroes more flawed, the spot-on reportage more reliant on facts.

Percy Fawcett (Charlie Hunnam), the 'hero' of The Lost City Of Z is a case in point. As Grann tells it, Fawcett was not a fantastic family man, may well have been more interested in chasing fame and fortune than anything else and was, by the conclusion of things, quite possibly driven to some form of mania or madness.

Director James Gray tones Fawcett down a touch. He is, without a doubt, a heroic figure here. But Gray and star Charlie Hunnam stick the landing. There is more than a suggestion that Fawcett is at fault for some of the events of the history, even more than that that Fawcett does not do right by his family, as his father did not do right by him. Crucially, the finale of Fawcett's story, as told by Grann, is maintained by Gray. It might be the reason the film was not a large hit with audiences.

Gray is growing a reputation as an auteur director who can get more than expected out of actors, sometimes with mixed-quality material. He does his reputation no harm here. There's no doubt that this is Hunnam's best work and there's a very solid argument that The Lost City Of Z is the same for Robert Pattinson and Sienna Miller. Miller gets great writing from Gray, who refuses to allow her character to just be the 'stay at home wife'. Hunnam and Pattinson are occasionally unrecognisable; Pattinson - in beard, spectacles and drooping hat - literally so. Hunnam's 'gentleman's accent' is wonderful; the right level of false to make you question Fawcett, rather than Hunnam's performance.

He too is in-tune with Grann's narrative style; present the facts, thrillingly, and the reader can draw their own conclusions of character fortitude.



By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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