Jungle review by Mark McPherson - Cinema Paradiso
Daniel Radcliffe really doesn’t get enough credit for throwing himself headfirst into the oddest of pictures in his post-Harry Potter career. No film finds him sacrificing more than with Jungle, a based-on-a-true-story survival story where he intentionally starved himself to accurately portray a man lost for days without eating. It’s just too bad he’s trapped in a film that doesn’t do him justice, struggling to find stage scene of losing one’s mind when Radcliffe has a method nailed down.
It’s a story based on the true-life 1981 survival tale of Yossi Ghinsberg (Radcliffe). An Isreali adventurer, he sets out on a trip for the Amazon rainforest of Bolivia. He’s enticed by the prospect of meeting an Indian tribe, seeing and learning new things. He’s assured by a guide that everything will be fine. But how many movies that lead to the jungle ever turn out alright? A series of unfortunate events leads to Yossi being separate from his group and lost deep within the rainforest, forcing him to survive on his own for days before he can either find civilization or somebody comes back for him.
And here is where the film falters with trying to stage the drama of losing one’s mind in isolation and starvation. The trickiest part is how to actively portray the visions and fantasies that crop up in the brain. I recall the documentary Touching the Void where a mountain climber tries to describe the experience of losing oxygen and hearing the same song over and over in his head, an event that was subtly staged. No subtlety in Jungle, presenting Yossi’s maddening visions as backstory and comic levity. He remembers the conversations he had with his girlfriend under the stars, fluidly transforming into trippier sights. Not ludicrous enough? How about a wishing vision of a decadent meal with surreal sights and a goofy orchestra accompaniment?
These theatrical aspects feel unneeded or at the very least ill-presented in a story where nature survival should be compelling enough. I enjoyed how the movie tricks the viewer at times with people not really there, food not quite present, and hope always far in the distance for Yossi. Radcliffe doesn’t just work for this role but suffers for it in what may be one of his best roles, which is saying something for an actor willing to play a decaying corpse and horned beast in his previous movies. One could write it off as a gimmick of the movie, but it may very well be that mindset that caused director Greg McLean to add in extra dashes of unnecessary fantasies.
Jungle has a lot to keep the eyes glued. The actors present, from the natives to the English speaking players, all delivery direct and to-the-point acting that never tries too hard to be engaging. The wildlife cinematography is astounding, from the gorgeous trees of day to the muddy nights with rain. McLean gets very up close and personal into this setting so we can feel all the dirt and grit on Radcliffe’s face. But in trying to keep that running time up, he adds some odd theatrical additions that hold the film back. And why would you want to turn the camera away from the finest of performances by Radcliffe?