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Review: Jungle (2017)

Jungle (2017)

Directed by: Greg McLean

Premise: Based on true events. Israeli traveler Yossi Ghinsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) and a pair of friends (Joel Jackson and Alex Russell) hire a guide (Thomas Kretschmann) to take them into the Bolivian rainforest. The trip doesn’t go as planned.

What Works: Jungle is a survival story that succeeds due to its pared down style and accessible performances. The movie has a vivid and authentic feel. Early scenes establish Yossi Ghinsberg and his companions and the filmmakers present the local culture in a way that doesn’t feel exploitative. Instead we have people who are strangers in a foreign land and Ghinsberg and his companions seem genuinely curious about Bolivia and its people as well as the rainforest. They meet Karl, an Austrian guide who persuades the three travelers to follow him into the rainforest with the promise of meeting isolated tribes that few people have met in person. Following a stranger into the jungle is a rather stupid thing to do but the filmmakers make the decision credible by emphasizing the characters’ excitement about seeing something special. Once the story moves to the rainforest, Jungle becomes a story of survival. The three travelers and their guide struggle with the elements and the filmmakers do an especially good job of portraying the harshness of the land and the difficulty of the journey. The production of Jungle is pared down. It doesn’t have the scale of a Hollywood production. That works for this movie which retains a visceral feel. Jungle has a vivid sense of peril and as the circumstances get worse the toll the journey takes on the bodies of the travelers is presented with effective detail. The film also benefits from its performances. Jungle is primarily Radcliffe’s show as Yossi Ghinsberg and he commits to the material. But also impactful is the relationship between the men. They have a credible rapport and the masculine dynamics between them are evident but understated.

What Doesn’t: Jungle is a recent version of a story that’s been seen before – westerners lost in the wilderness. The film is competently made but it doesn’t find any ways of reinventing the genre and it sticks to the familiar storytelling framework for a movie like this. There are some interesting implications to Jungle that aren’t explored. The travelers are in search of the indigenous people living in the jungle but there is an unanswered question: what are the travelers going to do when they meet the natives? There’s an understated presumption on the travelers’ part that the indigenous people are just sitting around waiting for them to show up. The failure of their mission says something to this presumption as well as about the relationship between man and nature but this film doesn’t get at any deeper levels the way that Cannibal Holocaust or Fitzcarraldo did. The post script at the end of Jungle fills in some information about Karl, the guide who leads the travelers into the rainforest. The implications of this information changes our understanding of who he is and deserves more explanation than the movie provides.

DVD extras: Featurettes and interviews.

Bottom Line: Jungle is a satisfying tale of survival. It may not reinvent the man versus nature scenario but the filmmakers do it well and Jungle benefits from its limited scale and nuanced performances.

Episode: #702 (June 10, 2018)