Jungle (Movie Review)

Jungle (Movie Review)
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PLOT: Yossi Ghinsberg (Daniel Radcliffe), an Israeli backpacker traveling through South America, endures a harrowing journey of survival when getting lost alone in the Amazon Jungle for 19 days.

REVIEW: I’m convinced those critically castigating Greg McLean’s new film JUNGLE – based on the Yossi Ghinsberg’s autobiographical bestseller Jungle: A Harrowing True Story of Survival – have never been at the mortal inclemency of mother nature themselves. Otherwise, more empathetic leeway would be given to what most seem to think is a cliché-ridden, anticlimactic slog. I did not find this to be the case at all, and rather appreciate McLean favoring grounded realism over generic sensationalism. Not only is JUNGLE a soaring rebound for McLean after last year’s insipid haunter THE DARKNESS and middling thriller THE BELKO EXPERIMENT, at its heart, the movie serves as an uplifting affirmation of humanity’s triumph of will. Moreover, it continues a long line of dogged performances by a post-Potter Daniel Radcliffe, who is tasked and taxed with a grueling turn that is inspiring at best, admirable at worst. Straight up, if you enjoy true stories that are so unfathomable they need to be seen to be believed, do wise and take a tour through the JUNGLE when it drops in select theaters and on VOD Friday, October 20th.

After serving a three year tour in the Israeli army, Yossi Ghinsberg (Radcliffe) finds himself backpacking through La Paz, Bolivia in 1980. He meets a Swiss schoolteacher named Marcus (Joel Jackson), with whom he becomes fast friends and traveling companions. The two happen to run into one of Marcus’ other friends, Kevin (Alex Russell), an American photographer, and the trio continue cavorting through the continent as one. Then, one night, Yossi is recruited by an enigmatic bushman named Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), who seduces the young man with the exotic promise of what the jungle has to offer. Soon, all four men are trekking deep into the Amazon Jungle, following Karl’s experienced lead through thicket of dense tropical foliage en route to a local village, where they can rest up, eat well, bathe and bandage, and ready for an extended exploration. Of course, mother-nature has (in)different designs.

Fatigue-fueled tension begins to tear a rift in the group dynamic. Marcus’ feet become so torn up he begins to slow down the progress, leading to the resentment of others. Animus erupts, sides are formed. Soon, the foursome cleave into halves, Karl and Marcus plan to walk out in a three day trek, while Yossi and Kevin decide to raft down the Tuichi River and sightsee a bit more on their way back to civilization. The perilous mission of the latter proves too much, and soon Yossi is separated from Kevin, left alone to his own devices to survive in the most unforgiving of natural habitats. The movie charts the course of Yossi’s 19 day excursion, a descent into increasingly hellish and torturous terrain that no man with a weak constitution and lack of faith could ever endure. Yet, with snakes, jaguars, monkeys, birds, even skin-boring worms and malnourished hallucinations to contend with, that’s precisely what Yossi must accomplish.

What works so well in the movie is, much like the jungle itself, is just how dense, colorful and teeming with life the whole endeavor is. Shot on location on the Gold Coast in Australia, the tactile verisimilitude of feeling like we’re right there in the jungle with Yossi cannot be overstated. No green-screens, controlled environments or cozy studio settings here. Mclean does a really good job of creating a palpable sense of his surroundings, the sights and sounds really lend for a specifically immersive time and place. No doubt, his work on both WOLF CREEK and ROGUE has served him well here, in what is easily his most mature work to date. To that end, by keeping in line with the realistic over the ridiculous, Mclean’s restraint in simply telling what is a true story instead of going overboard with crowd-pleasing thrill-rides and sensationalistic excitement – a point of criticism for most, mind you – is one of the wiser choices the director could have made. This story is perfectly compelling enough on its own without the artifice of manufactured enthrallment, and I for one am glad Mclean chose not to turn this into another flash-bang bombardment of contrived Hollywood action-adventure stylings.

At the heart of JUNGLE however is the performance of Daniel Radcliffe, who again acquits himself as a serious performer who is proactively distancing himself from his wizardly past. This lad has put forth a series of demanding, offbeat, dedicated performances, and here he carries the emotional and physical brunt of retelling Ghinsberg’s unimaginably horrific true-life experience. Buried under an emaciated frame, thick beard and even thicker Israeli accent, Radcliffe utterly commits himself to this role, and his soulful performance goes a long way in making JUNGLE a truly arresting watch. Sure, some have lambasted McLean for having Yossi talk to himself and to his conjured hallucinations, but seriously, what the hell would you do if you were lost in the jungle for nearly three weeks by yourself? Remain silent? Never cry out for help? This is by no means a detractor in the narrative, nor is the false claim of a overly schmaltzy conclusion. Again, this story really happened, and anyone who’s suffered the harsh cruelty of mother-nature for any prolonged period will recognize its dire authenticity. All things considered, JUNGLE is McLean’s best movie since WOLF CREEK!

Extra Tidbit: JUNGLE hits VOD on October 20th
Source: AITH



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