THREE STARS High hopes hit rock bottom on a back-packer's journey through South America.
Starring Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell
With a simple, one word title, the concentration of this drama is very much on its setting and its challenges. The jungle in question is in South America so we know from the outset it’s going to be a lost world; both wondrous and hostile. Then of course there is also impossibility of survival which is where the true story element has to kick in.
JUNGLE is directed by Greg McLean. He is blessed (or cursed) to be always known for his WOLF CREEK efforts. That film seemed to come at exactly the right time. Its brutal smiling-villain performance by John Jarrett as the bogey man/back packer murdered re-launched his career. This time Mclean has gone for a very different piece of casting using Daniel Radcliffe as the lead. He is the only big name in it.
Radcliffe too has somewhat struggled to carve out his post Harry Potter career/identity for audiences. However, to be fair he is having a good go. In fact he has sort of jungle form, as it were, having previously made the truly weird SWISS ARMY MAN (2106) in which he took a ride of a flatulent corpse.
Here he plays a young Israeli man called Yossi Ghinsberg. When we first met Yossi he is bumming around South America as a typical backpacker trying to escape the humdrum. As is the way, he meets some kindred spirits; Kevin (Alex Russell) a wannabe wildlife photographer and Marcus (Joel Jackson) a school teacher. Then the three of them get an offer of a real adventure from the slightly suspicious but charismatic Karl (Thomas Kretschmann). They set off into the interior with high hopes but vague expectations and preparedness. Soon enough things go pear-shaped.
Parts of this could be like some latter day DELIVERANCE but the natives aren’t hostile, it could also be a sort of creature-feature (Mclean cuts his teeth, as it were, on ROGUE (2007) which was a crocodile pic, but it shies away from that too. If what it comes up with is entirely convincing, or worthy of its fairly long running time, depends a bit on your willingness to go with it.
Radcliffe has to carry the last part of the film on his own (losing it, hallucinating with hunger etc.) and that is never an easy thing to do. Just ask Tom Hanks. There are some visual pleasures of course. JUNGLE was filmed in Queensland as well as Columbia but you can’t tell and DOP Stefan Duscio has certainly done a great job. The script and characterisation are all fine but that’s not where the real focus is anyway. If Ghinsberg’s story is somehow strangely familiar that is because against-the-odds tales are done so often now. And, of course, they hold a consistent fascination for those of us in the soft, couch-bound majority.