Movie Review: Jungle

Daniel Radcliffe plays a backpacking adventurer in Bolivia in the 1980s

Jungle (Ztracen v džungli)
Directed by Greg McLean
With Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell, Thomas Kretschmann. Yasmin Kassim, Joel Jackson. Jacek Koman

The Amazon can be an unforgiving place, but it also calls out those with a sense of adventure.

The film Jungle takes place in 1981 in Bolivia, during a time when people from all over the world were backpacking across South America, looking to find something authentic that they didn’t have at home.

The film is billed as a true story and seems to stick fairly closely to the real events. It is told almost entirely from the point of view of Yossi Ghinsberg (played by Daniel Radcliffe), a young man who has just spent three years in the Israeli Army. He wants to take some time off before getting involved in a career.

Yossi meets up with two other drifters, a Swiss schoolteacher named Marcus Stamm (Joel Jackson) and an American photographer named Kevin Gale (Alex Russell). They hang out with other hippies and travelers in La Paz.

But Yossi wants to do more than hang out in towns with other foreigners. He meets up with Karl Ruchprecter (Thomas Kretschmann), an Austrian who claims to be a jungle guide who knows where the river is full of gold and where a lost tribe is. And it is just a few days’ journey by foot into the Amazon.

His pitch is rather dodgy. Kevin and Marcus see lots of red flags such as the lack of even a proper map, but Yossi wins them over.

If the trip was a cakewalk, there really wouldn’t be a need for a movie about it. Obviously, things go drastically wrong.

But there is a lot of suspense waiting to see what exactly will be the first domino to fall. The four adventures, counting the guide, have tensions from the start as there seems to be no plan. Karl increasingly makes disturbing conversation with very dark tones. The weather is not cooperating and the jungle is not the open-air supermarket they were promised.

Filming took place in Colombia, Bolivia, and Australia, which gives the jungle scenes some authenticity. The dangers posed by animals, rapids, and treacherous terrain seem real, much more so than the adventures in the recent Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, an enjoyable but predictable Hollywood adventure filled with impossible escapes and CGI animals.

There is also no significant romance, which was a stumbling block in the recent The Mountain Between Us, which had some good survival scenes mixed with more contrived and saccharine parts.

The relatively low budget also helps to increase the sense of danger as the trip falls apart. There doesn’t seem to be much of a safety net.

As Yossi, Daniel Radcliffe is in almost every scene. He adopted a convincing Israeli accent and lost a lot of weight for the survival scenes, which are very harrowing.

Radcliffe has been trying to shake his Harry Potter image by taking roles in independent films such as the truly odd Swiss Army Man, where he plays a corpse, and costume dramas like the Woman in Black and Victor Frankenstein.

In Jungle, he gives one of his best recent performances and doesn’t seem like Harry Potter in disguise. His two traveling companions give acceptable support by underplaying their roles to seem like the sort of random people you might meet while backpacking.

The only person to ham it up a bit is Thomas Kretschmann as the guide, Karl. But he has to come off as both charismatic and off-center at the same time. His broad performance is needed to throw some question marks into the plot and to keep the audience guessing about his real motives.

He has extensive film credits as a tough-guy character, including Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Valkyrie, the 2005 remake of King Kong, Resident Evil: Apocalypse, Blade II, and U-571, among many others.

The plot and direction don’t follow the standard structures, as this a survival tale and not a stock drama with standard-issue characters. Some people may find the pacing a bit slow and the action climaxes weak, but that is because the film is trying to create a sense of reality, and not blow it up into fantasy.

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