"Jungle" tells the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, an adventurer who finds himself alone in the Bolivian jungle fighting for survival. It is an incredible story of determination of spirit and perseverance that may have been better served by a director more familiar with the genre. Even so, Daniel Radcliffe ("Swiss Army Man") is terrific in the lead role as a man who slowly loses his grasp on reality while struggling to survive.
From the opening scene, Radcliffe is one with his role as Ghinsberg, a young man who has taken to backpacking around the world to find the excitement he is afraid won't be there if he follows the traditional university-to-career path. He soon befriends Marcus (Joel Jackson), a Swiss schoolteacher on sabbatical, and Kevin (Alex Russell, "Unbroken") an American photographer. Yearning for an even greater adventure, Yossi convinces Marcus and Kevin to go deep into the jungle to find a lost native tribe with Karl (Thomas Kretschmann, "Wanted"), a mysterious guide who seemingly selects Yossi at random for this trek.
The trip quickly turns from idealistic adventure to a laborious slog, and outright hostility breaks out within the group. They eventually decide to split up, with Yossi and Kevin going down the river, and Marcus and Karl opting to hike out after it's revealed that Karl can't swim. Yossi and Kevin quickly get separated, at which point "Jungle" turns into Radcliffe's movie. His full commitment to the roll is hammered home in the final scenes, when his not-CGI-enhanced emaciated form is revealed.
Given both the interesting story and the strong performance of the cast, the final product is disappointing. Director Greg McLean ("Wolf Creek") is never able to find his feet outside of his preferred genre, horror. In real life, Yossi Ghinsberg had to survive on his own for three weeks. While this alone would provide enough material to build a miniseries around, here it's relegated to just half of the film.
Even though the film takes time setting up the story, it still feels rushed. Yossi, Marcus, and Kevin are shown enjoying the first part of their adventure with Karl, and then things pivot almost instantaneously into tension. It seems McLean is aware of some of the shortcomings and tries to compensate with an emotion-driving soundtrack. This too is only partially successful, as multiple times dialogue is rendered incomprehensible by the music. McLean clearly seems to be most comfortable when he was able to fall back into his traditional comfort zone: a scene when Radcliffe has to deal with a parasite is truly disturbing, and the director steps into it with gusto.
The backdrop of the film is beautiful and the performances will keep you engaged, but by the time it is over, you will be left with a feeling of disappointment. It's almost as if you were promised the Beatles, but given the Monkees.
|Summary||Despite the film never finding its footing, Daniel Radcliffe delivers a fantastic performance, surviving, though not winning, this battle of man versus nature.|