Jungle review: Daniel Radcliffe continues his quest to distance himself from his previous wizarding worlds with this engaging survival tale, based on a true story.
Jungle review by Steve Palace.
In the early Eighties, aspiring Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg was travelling in Bolivia, having a typical travelogue-type experience and hanging out with some newfound friends: rugged man’s man Kevin and soulful intellectual Marcus. However when Yossi met the mysterious Karl, who offered him the journey of a lifetime into the rainforest in search of a “hidden world”, the young backpacker jumped at the chance.
With his two pals joining the trek, they entered unknown territory. But with an odd and slightly sinister character for a guide, fraying tensions between the men and the savagery of the jungle stalking their every step, was this going to be an odyssey or a horror fest?
Turns out it’s a bit of both. Wolf Creek director Greg McLean and writer Justin Monjo have brought Ghinsberg’s true tale of survival (based on his book of the same name) to the screen with mixed results. It’s a slightly awkward transition from page to script but there’s much to admire about the production. The movie is marketed on the basis of Daniel Radcliffe’s Yossi being alone amongst the elements. In fact, this only forms part of what transpires and we have to sit through a lot of bickering before the party breaks up and Radcliffe is on course for a brutal one on one with the forces of nature.
I didn’t have a huge amount of sympathy for the group. Kevin’s harsh attitude towards Marcus – who understandably finds the environment too much to cope with – didn’t exactly warm me to him and some of the things the guys do appear downright stupid. Still, it would be churlish not to respect the tenacity of Radcliffe and Russell’s “men of action” setting off unaided to complete their brave, some might say foolhardy, quest of uncovering a lost civilization.
Once Radcliffe has gone solo the movie starts to come together. McLean is more at home with the viscera of murdered monkeys and worms being pulled out of peoples’ foreheads than he is with the wonders of discovery. Some critics have said the director’s approach doesn’t do justice to Ghinsberg’s account, but that’s unfair. The sequence where Yossi and Kevin are caught up in some rapids is powerful stuff, with McLean actually sticking his actors on and in the water for maximum authenticity.
What I found refreshing was the way the ordeal was interrupted by amusing dream sequences and Kevin’s search for his lost friend (once I learned the whole story my attitude to him softened considerably!). In today’s movies we’re used to this type of subject being shown in an unrelenting and immersive style. McLean provides respite for the audience and in my view this works more effectively as you can process what you’re seeing better. It reinforces the idea that hope exists, even in the bleakest of situations. How else could you survive?
The conclusion is rather moving and you feel for Radcliffe, who gives a strong performance. With his wide eyes, straggly beard and gaunt features he captures the essence of Ghinsberg. Seeing him caked in mud and grinning inanely is an unsettling sight indeed. He’s very much the centre of the piece, though he’s surrounded by a decent enough cast. Their adventures are underscored by Johnny Klimek’s odd soundtrack, a combination of innocuous guitar and pan pipes which suddenly lurches into Hans Zimmer-esque orchestrals.
It doesn’t bear comparison with the likes of Apocalypse Now, but Jungle is a solid descent into quicksand-laden madness. Radcliffe’s determined hero combined with locations that speak for themselves make this a trip to remember.
Jungle review by Steve Palace, October 2017.
Jungle is released in UK cinemas on Friday 20th October 2017.