Daniel Radcliffe has made some bold, almost admirable decisions since he hung up his robes, broom and wand as Harry Potter back in 2011. Between playing an undercover Nazi, a farting corpse and the famed Allen Ginsberg, it cannot be said that he ever took the easy way out. His role as Israeli adventurer, Yossi Ghinberg, in Greg McLean’s Jungle is no different – but even he struggles to elevate this sloppy true-life biopic into something above mediocre.
In the early 1980s, Ghinsberg travels to Bolivia to journey into the heart of the Amazon rainforest. After meeting Marcus Stamm (Joel Jackson), a Swish school teacher, and Marcus’ friend Kevin Gale (Alex Russell), an American hiker and photographer, the trio set out on an adventure. Arriving at La Paz, Yossi is spotted by Karl Ruchprecter (Thomas Kretschmann), who claims the existence of a lost Indian tribe in the jungle would be a more worthwhile quest; they decide to search for the tribe but soon begin to question the authenticity of Ruchprecter and his claims, causing a major rift in the group.
Decidedly lukewarm (in execution, quality and release)
Jungle’s release was a rather muted one. Receiving a very limited theatrical run and then unceremoniously pushed on to various streaming services, Jungle – despite Radcliffe’s attachment – has failed to make a dent in the movie-going populace. Unfortunately, that is largely reflective of the film’s underwhelming quality, not particularly worth the studio’s time (or investment) – or yours. It cruises by, executed in the most apathetic manner you’ve seen. What stood to be an insightful biopic culminates in a messy, blasé attempt to cash-in on an aspiration figure and journey. Ghinberg (and Radcliffe, for his commitment) deserve so much more.
Despite a fascinating true story at hand, Justin Monjo’s screenplay (based on Ghinsberg’s novel of the same name and his subsequent retelling) fails to capitalise on the brutal, horrifying experiences in a tonally appropriate manner. Some awkwardly-placed humour interrupts the building momentum, weakening the intensity and impact of the harsher moments when they do arrive. You can never quite accept the overall stakes either – despite the literal life or death fight for survival – because the script hasn’t adequately conveyed the intensity of the situation, terribly lacking in pace and enthusiasm in its execution. It’s decidedly lukewarm and the power is diluted because of it, particularly as we cross the threshold into the second half.
Monjo’s writing struggles to delve into Yossi’s thoughts all that effective either, placing a misguided emphasis on his physical decline over (what I’d consider the more interesting) mental deterioration. He gives us some bizarre hallucinatory sequences, spliced with mostly unnecessary flashbacks that rarely add anything to the situation beyond too-late-in-the-game characterisation (basically, his father’s isn’t happy with Yossi’s life choices, something you inferred yourself about an hour ago). It’s unbalanced and misplaced, unfortunately, becoming increasingly frustrating and draining – for both the main character and audience – throughout.
Radcliffe’s wasted efforts
Thankfully, a committed Radcliffe is on hand to keep you (somewhat) engaged. He is a powerful performer and his choices over the past few years have proved that he has an eye for meaty character roles – if not for the scripts that accompany them. His gradual emaciated body demonstrates his dedication to the role and I was completely surprised to learn they were not CGI-enhanced. The imagery is truly striking in these moments because of Radcliffe going all-in to illustrate his suffering. After some dodgy accent work to begin with, he eventually irons out the flaws and provides an impressive turn to add to his filmography. Despite some decent supporting work, this really is Radcliffe’s film through and through – and one that should, but won’t be, something of a career-definer.
When playing to his strengths, McLean’s direction is solid: as mentioned, when given the opportunity to extract horror from a situation, he delivers some strong imagery that begins to convey Ghinberg’s battle with his demons. It’s enhanced by Stefan Duscio’s solid cinematography, which broads the scale of the film considerably by exploring the deceptively luscious jungle. But a sloppiness in the execution elsewhere, and a failure to properly understand the emotional strain, makes it all worthless.
Ghinberg literally goes to hell and back during his ordeal, with his story containing an immense amount of strength and potency. But those responsible for the film’s execution – and McLean’s name does have to be dragged into that crowd – are seemingly lackadaisical and unenthused. It’s such a shame and slightly offensive to the man who deserves a stronger showcase for his journey. We are never made to care for the main character (and the supporting ones even less so) by the film in its own right, presenting you with a disappointing case of the filmmakers unsuccessfully recognising the terrific film that could have been created should more effort have been placed into it.
In Conclusion: Jungle
Jungle is sloppy, sloppy, sloppy. It feels oddly rushed throughout, both in filming and post-production, with some strange editing techniques that yank you out of the moment and destroy any energy it once began to muster. Daniel Radcliffe tries his damn hardest, with a devoted performance – but not since Amy Poehler in The House has an actor so valiantly battled such a poor script. This could have easily been a career-definer of sorts for a post-Potter Radcliffe – or at the very least a booster and assertion that he is capable of meatier roles.
Jungle’s weak execution and lukewarm adaptation leaves much to be desired, lacking a vigour or excitement that could have easily elevated it from the slapdash biopic it is now into something stronger, better – the potent, powerful survival drama is really deserves to be. The direction is fine but the script and pacing is creaky to say the least, ultimately abandoning Jungle up the creek without a paddle.
What are your thoughts on Jungle?
Jungle is now available on VOD and streaming services.
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