by Ian Morton
Jungleland is an interesting little beast of a film, leaning on very much the present setting of events in order to fill in the gaps of the characters past. Its a film that relies on the expression and emotional range of its actors than a fleshed out back story and while for the large part it manages to keep you interested in whats happening, its not one that will be considered an instant indie classic.
The plot is a simple story in that it follows a pair of down and outs as they struggle to live from hand to mouth in the hope that one day, the younger of the two brothers, Walter (Jack O’Connell), will break through the bare knuckle street fighting scene and become a boxing sensation.
When older brother Stanley (Charlie Hunnam) makes a bet which he can’t pay, the two are drafted in to travel across the country in an effort to compete in the annual Jungleland competition. At first it seems like the prize will pay off Stanley’s escalating debt, but its not until they start packing for the journey that the real task is brought to light.
On the plus side, the film balances a series of interesting themes as it tells the story of the two dreamers – The American dream for instance lurks in the background as they struggle to make themselves into something from nothing – and its seeming inclusion does a good job at giving the characters motive and means to keep trudging on. These themes are well put to screen by Max Winkler, a director who up until this point was most known for his work in comedy series Brooklyn-Nine-Nine and New Girl.
Strong performances from the cast bolster the picture, Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell work well together as the two main antagonists, sharing good chemistry not only with each other but with up and coming talent, Jessica Barden – a force that proves more than capable of sharing a screen with them. The three characters bringing a trio of contradicting mindsets and ideologies that keep you invested as they journey together from coast to coast.
Where the film begins to struggle however is from about the half way point when it decides to go from drama to something more akin to revenge thriller. Although this is a shift that films like 2017’s You Were Never Really Here manages to expertly implement, here it comes out of nowhere, ejecting you from the story that unfortunately doesn’t quite give the satisfying ending the bleak first half drastically needed. The result is that it feels like a cheap end result, one that feels tacked on rather than something truly earned – ironic given the films underlying themes.
Jungleland is available from all digital platforms now.
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