Ever since his resounding success with the Harry Potter franchise Daniel Radcliffe has continued to push the boundaries of his acting career with fantastic and varied performances in both Swiss Army Man and Imperium. Now Radcliffe has completed one of his most physically demanding roles yet portraying Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli adventurer who became stranded alone in the Bolivian Amazon for 3 weeks back in 1981. Directed by Greg McLean (Wolf Creek), the survival thriller follows Yossi Ghinsberg along with his two friends Kevin (Alex Russell) and Marcus (Joel Jackson) who go on a once in a lifetime trek through the uncharted Amazon led by Karl Ruprechter (Thomas Kretschmann), a self-proclaimed expert of the area. But they soon realise they are no match for this uncharted wilderness as it begins to physically and mentally break them down.
Jungle tells a very intense, dramatic, and at times very horrific story that does a good job at putting you in Yossi’s shoes allowing you to experience what he must have endured back in 1981. The plot moves along at a very fast pace which helps keep the adrenaline pumping but sometimes progresses a little too fast for its own good. The performances are largely very strong, especially from Radcliffe but there are some that don’t quite stand out as much. A great use of cinematography and score manipulation gives the film a very psychological feel, adding another layer of intrigue to the story. But where Jungle is incredible in depicting certain individual moments of truth, the overall story feels very structured and familiar to the survival thriller genre.
I will start with the directing effort by Greg McLean who I believe was integral in conveying the horror and intensity associated with Yossi’s journey through the Amazon. Hearing him talk briefly at the screening about the production of the film I really got a feel for how he strove to get the most authentic representation of events possible involving a tonne of location scouting and putting Radcliffe through some tough but necessary situations. This all pays off as this authenticity has you believing Radcliffe is really enduring all of these gruelling labours and only further enhances your engagement with the events on-screen. There are a number of horrific sequences that occur throughout the film that combine unsettling and confronting imagery with a pounding and chilling score that I don’t believe would have been effective without the input of McLean. His background in horror is on full display here and the way he pulls it off is very well done considering there is no supernatural presence or axe-wielding murderer to make use of. This is purely a man vs nature story and mother nature being as ruthless and unforgiving as she is plays very well as the origin of danger and horror responsible for breaking down this group of adventurers.
As far as the performances go, Radcliffe is undoubtedly the standout here mainly because he is the core focus of almost the entire runtime. Once again as he did in 2016’s Imperium he disappears into the role and you forget you are watching Harry Potter rummaging through the jungle and just get sucked into the world from his performance. The accent helps to sell the character to us but the desperation and pain he exhibits through his facial expressions and changing body chemistry as the film progresses works wonders for allowing you to get an idea of the effects of nature on his physical and mental state. Kretschmann (King Kong) was very solid in the film and despite not having a tonne of screen-time along with the rest of the main cast I thought he played his character really well and if the story had permitted I’d have loved to see more of him. As for Alex Russell and Joel Jackson though I wasn’t very convinced by their performances as Yossi’s friends. They each have a moment or two where they are able to shine but overall I thought they were pretty average with their line delivery and just selling the situation they’re in.
Now where this film does drama and intensity really effectively at a fast pace it is most definitely not without a few flaws. At least the first third to maybe the first half of the runtime is spent introducing you to the key characters, showing you their morals and attitudes and giving you time to get to know them before shit starts to go down. I do think this could have been tightened up just a tad, the buildup was good but it started to lose a bit of steam at some points probably due to trying to cover a bunch of time so quickly. But this was one of the more minor flaws that didn’t bother me too much. Another minor flaw was it did become a little difficult understanding the passing of time whilst Radcliffe was stranded in the jungle. One scene it has taken 20 minutes or so to have progressed 6 days and next thing you know 20-30 minutes later it’s been 3 weeks. This is irritating when trying to understand the timing of events whilst in the theatre. But my major criticism I mentioned briefly above is that where the film has moments of ingenuity and greatness, overall the film seems to follow a familiar start to finish structure that most of these survival thrillers adopt. This could be a result of the true survival story happening to follow this structure but there are other ways to break form and still tell the same story.
So in the end, despite Jungle‘s various flaws it is still a very good watch with an intriguing story and strong lead performance from Radcliffe that sucks you into this adventure. McLean does a great job of applying his experience in the horror genre to this story managing to depict the terror and insanity of Yossi’s unexpected adventure very effectively.
Review Score: THREE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Running Time: 115 minutes
Jungle screened at the Melbourne International Film Festival which is running until the 20th of August.