Director: Greg McLean
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell, Joel Jackson, Karl Kretschmann
MPAA Rating: (for language and some drug use)
Running Time: 1:55
Release Date: 10/20/17 (limited)
Review by Mark Dujsik | October 19, 2017
Another dramatization of a real-life story of unlikely survival within a harsh environment, Jungle attempts to dig into the inner life of its protagonist, while exploring and challenging the concepts of masculinity that got him in this predicament in the first place. It doesn't succeed in either of those regards, although that might be because director Greg McLean is so captivated by the visceral thrills and chills of this story. It is thrilling at times, as well as being occasionally horrifying for anyone who squirms at the sight of a moving lump on someone's forehead.
It's obvious, though, that screenwriter Justin Monjo wants to do more with the story from Yossi Ghinsberg's book, an account of his three weeks being lost in the Amazon jungle. He was raised in Israel, left to explore the world instead of continuing with his education, and ended up in Bolivia after trips to Africa and Mexico, as well as losing all of his money in Las Vegas. In the movie, what Yossi, played by Daniel Radcliffe (an interesting casting choice, to say the least), wants to achieve is simple: See the world, and live life while he still can.
While in La Paz, he meets Marcus (Joel Jackson), a fellow amateur adventurer, and, through his new friend, Kevin (Alex Russell), a photographer looking for his big break. After some aimless wandering around town and canoodling with a local woman who gives him an hallucinatory trip, Yossi meets Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), another explorer with a bargain for Yossi and his new buddies.
For $50, he'll take them through the uncharted parts of the Bolivian Amazon. While hiking, they'll stop to pan for gold, and after the expedition is complete, Karl will give the trio their money back. The other two are hesitant, although Yossi convinces Kevin that he'll get some great shots. With Kevin on board, Marcus feels obligated to tag along with his friends.
It's that sense of obligation that ultimately haunts Yossi, because, at a certain point before or during the expedition, he begins to doubt whether or not this is a particularly good idea. Seeing Karl, with his rugged determination, and Kevin, with his dedication to his photography, though, makes him doubt his own doubts. There's a need to fit in—not only among his friends but also as a man, who should tackle any challenge provided to him, no matter how reckless it may be.
This is fascinating, but it's something that only comes up well past the time that Yossi's jungle adventure has gotten out of hand. It does so directly but rather vaguely, too, with Yossi experiencing hallucinations about his past—of a father who disapproves of his plan to see the world and of an uncle who, like the rest of his family, survived the war and the concentration camps. Compared to them, Yossi sees himself as a failure. Compared to Karl and Kevin—and even, to an extent, Marcus, who agrees to the long walk through the jungle despite being frightened—he sees himself as a coward. We know this because he tell us, in short monologues while suffering from exhaustion, starvation, and dehydration.
That angle—of Yossi's fear of not living up to society's standards, regret of doing something so irrational in order compensate, and recognition of how badly he has messed up—seems to be the heart of this story. It's lost, though, amidst the life-or-death stakes and adventure of his failed trek through the jungle.
This includes a couple of rafting trips through dangerous rapids, where the three friends begin to suspect that Karl is not the adventurer he claims to be (He also goes on rants about his philosophy on life, in which he sees humans as a "cancer" on the planet, and hints that he might be in trouble with the law). There's a terrifying sequence when Yossi and Kevin become pinned between a rock and the rushing current, with McLean and cinematographer Stefan Duscio's camera bobbing above and below the water along with the characters. On his own, Yossi has to climb canyon walls, confront vicious animals, avoid the forthcoming rainy season, and figure out what the hell is squirming under the skin of his forehead. Meanwhile, the screenplay also follows the process of trying to rescue Yossi, despite everyone's belief that no man could survive weeks in the jungle on his own.
After a while, it becomes repetitive, because, as much as the movie tries to illuminate the inner workings of this character, the flashbacks and hallucinations feel like hollow explanations. There is, undoubtedly, something deeper beneath this character and behind his attempts to become the sort of man he believes he is expected to be. Jungle doesn't look nearly deep enough into these concepts, instead relying on an almost mystical component to the meaning behind Yossi's story. This may be the story of a man lost in the jungle, but that doesn't mean the movie has to lose the man in the adventure.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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