Don’t Fool With Mother Nature

Main Cast: Daniel Radcliffe, Joel Jackson

Director: Greg McLean

I can’t think of a currently active actor who is more typecast than Daniel Radcliffe. He grew up in front of the entire world as Harry Potter and at the age of 29 still looks very much like the boy wizard. But I admire his drive to take out-of-the-ordinary roles. He could probably star in big budget Hollywood blockbusters if he wanted to, but he keeps taking parts in small, offbeat movies like Jungle.  He says he makes movies for the experience, which after making all the money, I suppose he can. I suspect this filming was both interesting and exciting.

Jungle is based on the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, a young man from Israel who yearns to travel the world. He is doing exactly that, in Bolivia, in the early 1980s when a mysterious man offers to guide him and a couple of friends deep into the jungle. Despite the guy (Karl, played by Thomas Kretschmann) being decidedly weird and the trek sounding wildly implausible, Yossi and friends Marcus (Joel Jackson) and Kevin (Alex Russell) set off on what they assume will be a grand adventure. And it is, oh yes, just not in the ways they expected.

As you’ve certainly guessed, things do not go as the young men planned. What started out as a journey to visit a “lost tribe” ends up being a harrowing experience for all involved. I won’t tell you more because, well, that would ruin it now wouldn’t it?

Jungle does a whole lot of things right, from the terrific cast to the amazing visuals and underlying story of endurance. It’s hard to forget that Daniel Radcliffe isn’t actually a wizard, but the beard helps (so does the Israeli accent which sounds quite good) and soon he becomes Yossi – stubborn and idealistic and in over his head. The real Yossi was on set during filming, which was no doubt an immense help to the entire cast and crew.  It is from his book that the film was adapted, and having that firsthand insight clearly gave the filmmakers a very personal vision for the movie.

The other main actors – Kretschmann, Jackson, and Russell – are fantastic.  Kretschmann’s Karl is odd and intense but captivating in a strange way. It’s not hard to see how young men, filled with hubris and immortality, would be eager for the adventure he offers. Jackson’s Marcus is really wonderful. He is the first one to struggle in the jungle and his reaction to the irritation of the others is both sad and infuriating. Russell plays the American with too much confidence and ego. Kevin gets mad when he’s frustrated and once set on a course is impossible to dissuade. The interplay among the three younger men is arguably the root cause of everything that goes awry.

The film is absolutely beautiful. Though parts of Jungle were actually filmed in South America, the jungle scenes were shot in Australia. And they are magnificent. The jungle is beautiful and lush and filled with life. It’s also harsh and unforgiving and filled with death. The adventurers are unprepared for this formidable foe and find themselves on the defensive time and again.

We also get into the mind of Yossi as he discovers things about himself he probably didn’t want to know. It’s as much a journey of the mind as it is of the body as he struggles against a world for which he is utterly unequipped. As he goes through periods of being frantic, hopeless, determined, and defeated his whole world view changes. It’s well done without slowing the pace of the adventure. The only issue I had was that sometimes things got too muddled and trippy and it was hard to figure out what was happening to Yossi. I imagine that this was intentional as he himself didn’t know, but it can get a little overwhelming on film.

Overall I really enjoyed Jungle. Not in the YAY, LOOK AT THE HAPPY PEOPLE! kind of way, but in a HOLY CRAP THIS ACTUALLY HAPPENED TO SOMEONE kind of way. The foolish bravery of youth and the unyielding power of nature come together in Yossi’s story to make an exciting movie, gorgeously filmed and solidly acted.

Jungle is currently streaming on Amazon Prime Video.

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