(out of 5)
James Gray’s Two Lovers ends with its protagonist being forced to settle for what he can have and not where his fantasies take him, realizing that life can still be bearable in such circumstances; this exquisite period film, based on the true story of early twentieth-century explorers, informs us of what happens when a person refuses to accept that compromise and gives quite the insight into the auteur’s often dark tales. Charlie Hunnam is sturdy as a British soldier and member of the Royal Geographical Society who is commissioned to travel to Amazonia and provide the empire with better and more detailed maps of the Bolivian jungle. The journey is long and dangerous but he and his faithful colleagues Robert Pattinson and Edward Ashley manage to survive all the perils that face them, achieving their surveying goal but, more important, discovering remnants of a lost, ancient civilization in the jungle that Hunnam enthusiastically reports back to the RGS when he returns home. Met with incredulity by European snobs who refuse to believe that there could be an advanced civilization earlier than their own, Hunnam shouts his findings against all manner of resistance until his wife (a remarkably good Sienna Miller) unearths a centuries-old document by a Portuguese explorer who confirms the existence of this “lost city” referred to only as “Z”. Hunnam’s next voyage to South America is sponsored by the Society with the intention of finding the site again, but the accompaniment of a Falstaffian Angus Macfadyen gets in the way of their success before World War I further delays Hunnam’s dreams, which seem destined to go unfulfilled until his grown son (Tom Holland) helps take up the cause. Things go the Herzog way at that point in a gorgeous, quiet epic where years pass and a slow and steady sense of obsession grows; we get the impression that our protagonist’s belief in this place is more a Moby Dick-like fixation than a noble cause to help enlighten the world about the past. The actual motive for this compulsion is not entirely clear, there’s no speculation on Gray’s part as to whether or not Hunnam is looking for Z as a way to escape the ugly present or make up for a personal insecurity, and this robs the film of the kind of substance that would match his steady direction and dreamlike cinematography. That said, the confidence and skill with which he makes so dark and pessimistic an adventure film that rests mainly on disappointment and failure is worthy of awe, and the running time never feels difficult.
Directed by James Gray
Screenplay by James Gray, based on the book by David Grann
Cinematography by Darius Khondji
Music by Christopher Spelman
Production Design by Jean-Vincent Puzos
Costume Design by Sonia Grande