JWR Articles: Film/DVD - The Lost City of Z | Last Flag Flying | Racer and the Jailbird (Le Fidèle) (Directors: James Gray, Richard Linklater) - January 18, 2018

The Lost City of Z | Last Flag Flying | Racer and the Jailbird (Le Fidèle)

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Reviewed at the 2018 edition of the Palm Springs International Film Festival.
Two hits and a severe miss

The Lost City of Z
James Gray
141 mins, 2017
Four stars.

Just who are the savages?

In this new era of over-generalized language from those in power (“shithole countries” recently spewed out by an asshole commander in chief), and the tsunami of “important” men being summarily outed as sexual predators then convicted before being tried (such a wonderful irony given that so many women’s stories were willfully not believed as they trickled, rather than gushed into the public domain), a viewing of James Gray’s take on exploration in Bolivia will leave thinking viewers with still another example of what can happen when we are, obviously, better than you.

Based on David Grann’s more appropriately titled book, The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon, the narrative is a somewhat romanticized retelling of Percy Fawcett’s (a marvellous stiff-upper-lip portrayal by Charlie Hunnam) treks into Bolivia (first as a mapmaker to settle Bolivia/Brazil border disputes; then in desperate search for the city of Z whose sophistication, Fawcett believes, would put the lie to the notion of “ignorant savages”) only to never return home after his last foray (accompanied by his son Jack¾Tom Holland in a steady-as-she-goes performance).

Despite many searches performed by the politically, commercially motivated Royal Geographical Society (headed here by Clive Francis as the crafty, opportunistic Sir John Scott Keltie), the bodies were never found (were they killed by the “barbarians” or perhaps joined their number to live out their days with them…?). The film’s “answer” opens as many doors as it closes: viewers can decide.

But the production’s most important takeaway is the whole notion of exploration fuelled by profit (in this case the “gold” is rubber). Once again the white man barges into other people’s territory and tramps over their rights, land and lives. Is it any wonder that Indigenous people take exception to the intruders and protect their homeland?

Very curiously, the music tracks boast a large assortment of Western composers: Johann Strauss Jr., Ravel, Stravinsky, Mozart, Bach, Beethoven Verdi), which aurally reinforces the cultural divide. How incongruous is it to hear these masters while the camera (Darius Khondji aptly demonstrating his mastery of the art form) rewards the eye with magnificent views of “Amazonia” (actually shot in Colombia). Indeed, what little we see of the “natives” is generally in warlike postures, which¾for some¾is just what they’d imagined those uneducated heathen to be like.

But Fawcett knows better: he saw with his own eyes the impressive system of agriculture and expertly crafted pottery that would be the envy of any “civilized” society. Accordingly, he became a risk for all of those who preferred to assume that those whose land they wanted in order to enrich themselves weren’t worthy of a proper contract much less respect for their traditions, mores and beliefs.

Felling a stag in the opening scene with a single shot, Percy says, “To death, the best source of life.” One can only imagine that somewhere deep in the jungle on his last adventure his motto was realized. JWR

Last Flag Flying
Richard Linklater
124 mins, 2017
Four and one half stars

The saddest film of the year

How astonishing to see in the blurb for this production the phrase, “the hilarious film.” There is nothing remotely funny about two senseless wars (Vietnam, Iraq) killing, maiming and destroying precious lives on all sides. Sure, there are moments of comic relief (the transport truck standoff as a pivotal character-recall moment is a hoot), but like Shakespeare’s finest tragedies, the brief diversion from the serious plot line (disgraced USMC veteran Larry Shepherd, hunts down his long-lost buddies for the sole purpose of burying his son and namesake) just makes the coming revelations all the tougher to endure.

In our current era of fake news, Linklater’s screenplay (along with Darryl Poniscan whose novel of the same name is the sequel to 1973’s The Last Detail), the penchant for the military to offer lies instead of facts about just how their valiant soldiers perished rings absolutely true: replete with awarding medals of valour where none were deserved. Perhaps medals of cowardice to the powerful “leaders” that foolishly placed these soldiers in harm’s way would be in order: #WarsFoughtForEgo.

Playing the senior Shepherd, Steve Carell employs a most convincing tone of understatement that marvellously belies his rage; as the womanizing boozer, Sal Nealon, Bryan Cranston turns in a superlative performance¾especially in the deftly timed moments of compassion and understanding; none better than Laurence Fishburne to infuse his role as the Reverend Richard Mueller with a compelling sense of born-again Christian fuelled by past sins that few gods could ever forgive.

And special mention must be made of J. Quintin Johnson’s pivotal character, Washington: Larry Junior’s best friend, comrade in arms and confidante, more than willing when pushed (and facing the wrath of his superiors) to tell the miserable truth as to how his best bud was shot in the back of the head not in battle but in a routine stock-up for confectionary delights.

And if any of that strikes audiences as “hilarious,” then the world is in much worse shape than anyone could ever imagine. JWR

Racer and the Jailbird (Le Fidèle)
Michäel Roskam
130 mins, 2017
One star

The gangster and the immortal

Oh dear. Thankfully, it’s been a very long time since I endured a film that seemed much more driven by tax credits than narrative (cross-reference below).

Anyone who can explain the artistic value of this “dog” of a production (dogs are an important plot device…), please enlighten me.

For everyone else, you are welcome for me saving you over two hours of your life that could be better spent watching paint dry. JWR

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