SIGNATURE ENTERTAINMENT (2017)

 

Director: Greg McLean

 

Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Thomas Kretschmann, Alex Russell, Joel Jackson

Potter snake pounding in the jungle? Sign me up.

 

Yossi Ghinsberg has an extremely interesting story. The Israeli is the subject of Jungle, the movie that details Yossi’s time in the jungle – or more to the point, his time lost there in 1981. Coaxed on an expedition through the thick Bolivian jungle by a shady guide, Yossi was separated from his party and spent three weeks stranded with no food, water, survival tools or seemingly hope.

 

Anyone fancy a sojourn into the wilderness?

1981. Young traveller Yossi Ghinsberg (Radcliffe) is travelling through Bolivia when he meets fellow trekkers Marcus (Jackson) and photographer Kevin (Russell). Wanting a once-in-a-lifetime experience, Yossi agrees to a journey deep into the Amazon with explorer Karl (Kretschmann) on the premise of discovering ancient villages and gold. Coercing Marcus and Kevin to join, the quartet set off on their gruelling quest. Circumventing the living and natural dangers of the jungle, the physical rigour begins to take hold of the group, especially Marcus – who struggles with eating monkeys and his ever-worsening trench foot.

 

After a disastrous raft journey nearly destroys the entire effort, Karl and Marcus split from the group to walk the rest of the way to Rurrenabaque, whereas Yossi and Kevin continue to raft their way through rocky rivers and intrepid rapids. That doesn’t end well as the pair are split up after the rapids claim their raft, leaving Yossi alone to survive in the harsh and dangerous jungle – full of leech worms, jaguars, fire ants. Oh, and monsoon season is on its way.

 

Australian Scare Mayor Greg McLean helms the movie of Ghinsberg’s nightmare and considering his previous body of work includes Wolf Creek and The Belko Experiment, I had a slight intrigue as to how he would approach Jungle. Would he go full Deliverance and ramp up the more terrible elements or would he provide a more introspective piece? In truth, it’s a bit of both and I was surprised at the restraint shown by the director.

 

Jungle is a decent movie that sticks to the tangible events, told in Ghinsberg’s novel Jungle, and resists the urge to create a tenser, more thrilling affair. On one hand, it’s admirable of the writing team and respectful towards the trials of the situation, on the other hand, it does leave a product slightly devoid of excitement. It would’ve been easy to make more of Karl’s character (in reality, Karl was never an explorer, he was an Austrian criminal on the run) and create more of an antagonist to provide greater intrigue, however, Jungle focuses solely on the degradation and suffering Ghinsberg faced, both physically and mentally.

 

Radcliffe goes all-in with his performance, reportedly living on one egg a day in order to lose enough weight for the role. Covered in mud and lord knows what else, he delivers a forceful and physical performance (once you get your head around the Israeli accent he adopts). At times, I convinced myself that this plays out like a prequel to Swiss Army Man, with his exploits, situation and image (that’s not a serious observation, by the way…) It’s a tight ensemble piece with a believable camaraderie, even if the characters behavioural turns are fairly rushed.

 

When Radcliffe is left alone in the jungle, he convincingly portrays the frustration, fear, anger and mental anguish that Yossi himself did. The bulging veins in his forehead, the agonised screams as the rescue plane soars overhead and not locating him, the fear in his eyes when he has to sleep with no guarantee of waking the next morning – Radcliffe does a worthy job of conveying these emotions. Where Jungle stumbles is in the use of flashbacks to flesh out Yossi’s backstory and to provide another insight into his flailing mind, and also the (oft-used) hallucinatory imagery McLean insists on utilising. Having seen Radcliffe display a wide-range of emotions aptly, more faith should have been put in him to portray his mindset also. Additionally, portions of the dialogue sit firmly on shaky ground and the occasionally dodgy accents become distracting, rendering certain lines indecipherable. There’s a lot of sentimental lines towards the end of the movie that have the ‘cinematic touch’ for dramatic effect

 

It wouldn’t be a McLean movie without wince-inducing imagery and scenes and Jungle provides the goods for those seeking them. Watching Radcliffe mine his forehead for a buried leech worm is gruesome, as is his decision to tuck into fresh bird fetuses, straight from the eggs – complete with heavy crunching. It may turn your stomach a bit. The monkey, though, looked tasty.

 

Jungle delivers a solid adaptation of true events without the need to drift too far into sensationalism. The man himself, Yossi, is an unassuming type, so to have him swinging from trees searching for Jane would have been ridiculous. It’s a nice looking movie and the tropical flair of the Amazon is captured well (in Colombia and Queensland), however, there’s a lack of flair that keeps the movie only at a consistently respectable level. If recent offerings such as The Shallows and Berlin Syndrome succeed in swaying people from the ocean or solo travelling, Jungle will more than likely change a few young explorers’ minds about attempting to conquer the jungles.

 

A country park walk will do me just fine.

 

October 24th 2017

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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