Tuesday 10 November 2020

Jungleland (Movie Review)

Awards season is officially in full swing, even as movie studios continue to lick their wounds from all the damage wrought by 2020. So you can expect to see more of these smaller-scale dramas film pundits refer to as Oscar bait. These are the critical darlings that target this time of year for theatrical release, after making the rounds at the various film festivals. Jungleland had made its own debut back in 2019, at the Toronto International Film Festival, but is only now hitting video on demand, after receiving a limited theatrical release this past weekend.

The movie stars Charlie Hunnam and Jack O'Connell as Stanley and Lion Kaminski, a pair of down-on-their-luck brothers living on the very edge. Lion is a bare-knuckles boxer struggling to make it in the underground boxing league, while Stanley serves as his coach. When both of them fail to pay back a loan taken from a small-time gangster (Jonathan Majors), they are forced to run an errand for him that involves transporting a young girl (Jessica Barden) across the country, as they journey to San Francisco to take part in the Jungleland boxing competition.

There's plenty to love about Jungleland, but the thing I loved the most was the depiction of the camaraderie between the two brothers. They had a co-dependent relationship borne as much out of love as it was necessity. The movie makes it clear that they'd spent a lifetime of hardship together, so it made sense that all they'd ever had to rely on was each other. And it was this that made watching their bond get tested over the course of the movie all the more heartbreaking.

The film is anchored by solid performances from its three leads, and Charlie Hunnam continues to showcase his acting chops, much like he did in The Gentlemen earlier this year. It is also beautifully shot and tightly edited, ensuring that hardly any of its one hour and thirty minutes runtime is wasted. And while it might have similarities to other sports dramas like Warrior, calling it a ripoff would be a disservice to its character-driven narrative. In fact, I wouldn't even call it a sports drama, since it is as much a road movie and a character study, with the sport serving as more of a plot device.

My only real complaint about Jungleland is how the movie sort of just fizzles out at the very end, with the ending itself being cliched and highly derivative. But like most great movies, the enjoyment is in the journey, not the destination. And as far as journeys go, Jungleland is one of the better ones I have had this year.

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