Jungle is a film about a group of three friends (Radcliffe, Russel, Jackson) whom wish to explore and photograph places that no one has ever been before. Their opportunity comes in the form of a shady guide (Kretschmann) who leads them on an expedition into the Bolivian wilderness. After an unfortunate turn of events, Radcliffe’s character Yossi (whom this true story is based on) finds himself fighting for survival from not only the jungle but his own mentality.
Radcliffe has grown into a very capable leading man and carries the film with ease. After this film, Horns and Swiss Army Man, it is safe to say he has certainly out grown his Harry Potter mantle. Veteran character actor Thomas Kretchmann plays the suspicious guide, Karl, with poise. One of my favorite scenes of the film was the distressed look upon his face while rafting through rapids, in that moment you know that Karl is not exactly whom he says he is. It just doesn’t compute that an experienced guide would feel so threatened by a river he supposedly knows everything about. Alex Russel also provides very capable support, his character is full of life and Russel plays him with sincerity. It’s hard to critique the actors negatively given they are emulating people that actually existed and could very well be portraying them accurately but I can’t help but feel that Jackson under played his role. He plays Marcus with a certain softness which makes you wonder why he is even there at all.
The real star of the film is the Jungle itself. With some excellent cinematography from Stefan Duscio (Canopy, The Mule), McLean is able to make you feel, to a degree, the same isolation that Yossi Ghinsberg surely felt. Aerial shots of the Jungle show the vastness of it, while down on the ground you get to see how congested and dangerous it can be. You start to ask yourself, what would I do if this happened to me? How would I survive?
Being captive to the jungle is not the only challenge for Yossi though, he is also a captive of his own mentality. After weeks of loneliness, starvation, and thirst, he begins to question his will to survive and what’s real or not. One of the successes of Jungle, is that it has the ability to make the viewer question what is real or not and relies on the sheer presence of nature to create tension and terror.
Unfortunately the film does lack pace – the first third of the film is slow and a little dull. But in saying that, if you go into a survival film expecting 100% action and excitement, you will almost always come out disappointed. It is important to remember this is a true story, not a work of fiction made to indulge your every sense. While this is still a beautiful and mostly entertaining film, it is amazing to think that the real Yossi Ghinsberg truly lived these experiences, as well as some not portrayed in the film. In one instance he woke up to find termites eating parts of his body that he had urinated on and another where he slipped down a slope and impaled his backside on a broken stick.
At the end of the day, if you are looking for an edge-of-your-seat survival film, (think – The Edge or The Grey), Greg McLean’s Jungle is not for you. If you’re looking for a film that will deliver spectacular cinematography, great acting and a true sense of what it may take to survive in the wilderness, then you’ve come to the right place.
Director: Greg McLean
Writer: Justin Monjo (based on Yossi Ghinsberg’s book Jungle)
Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russel, Joel Jackson, Thomas Kretschmann