Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Greg Mclean
Stars: Daniel Radcliffe, Alex Russell, Thomas Kretschmann, Joel Jackson.
The opening night film for MIFF 2017 was the generic survival thriller Jungle, directed by Greg McLean, who is best known for his outback horror thriller Wolf Creek. Jungle is based on the true story of Israeli adventurer Yossi Ghinsberg’s ordeal when he became lost in the Bolivian jungle for three weeks. His ordeal was detailed in his 2005 book, and also depicted in an episode of the tv series I Shouldn’t Be Alive. Ghinsberg’s book has been adapted for the screen by script writer Justin Mungo (Spear, Farscape, etc), although one suspects that he has taken a few liberties with the story for dramatic purposes.
Gruelling and harrowing, Jungle is a true story of survival against the odds, and takes its place alongside other survival dramas like Alive (the true story of the soccer team stranded in the Andes following a plane crash) and Cast Away with Tom Hanks.
In October 1981, 21-year old Ghinsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) was backpacking through South America when he joined American photographer Kevin (Alex Russell, from Goldstone, etc) and wimpy teacher Marcus (Joel Jackson, from tv miniseries Deadline: Gallipoli, etc) to journey inland. With their guide, the enigmatic Karl (Thomas Kretschmann, from Polanski’s Oscar winning WWII drama The Pianist, etc), they set out for an adventure. But after a frightening experience with river rapids, the party split up, with Yossi and Kevin electing to continue the journey along the river. Karl and Marcus decided to go overland. Eventually Yossi and Kevin became separated, and for 19 days Yossi wandered through the jungle, enduring starvation, bad weather, creepy crawlies, hardships and even hallucinations.
The film marks something of a change of pace for McLean, who is best known for his Ozploitation horror film Wolf Creek, and while the material is a little cliched, he handles it with a sense of restraint. He injects some of the tropes of the horror genre into the material though. But Mclean’s unhurried direction also means that there is no real sense of urgency to the material. The hallucinatory dream sequences are not that effective, and some of the dialogue in the early scenes is a little clunky.
Mclean has made the most of his limited budget and resources. The film has been shot on location in Colombia and Bogota, which lends authenticity to the experience, as well as in a tropical rainforest near Queensland’s Mount Tamborine and the Warner Bros studios on the Gold Coast. The superb widescreen cinematography from Stefan Duscio (Canopy, etc) captures the natural beauty of the locations, and enriches the film’s visuals in much the same way he enlivened Canopy. He uses lots of hand held camera work to immerse us in the white-water rafting sequences. Some of the white-water sequences will remind audiences of the classic survival thriller Deliverance and The River Wild, and will develop a certain sense of anticipating the worst, which never quite comes to eventuate.
Cast against type, Radcliffe, who is best known for playing the boy wizard Harry Potter, gives a physical performance here as his character is put through the wringer. This is a committed performance from Radcliffe, who did most of his own stunts and lost a lot of weight, and he manages to effectively convey the physical toll the experience took on his body and mind. There are a few gross out scenes along the way, which he handles with aplomb. Since the Potter franchise, Radcliffe has been seeking out a variety of roles that challenge him and stretch him as an actor. Russell is a rising star of the screen and he does what he can with an underdeveloped character who nonetheless plays an important part early in the film. Kretschmann is vaguely sinister as the dodgy guide Karl, while Jackson barely registers.
While flawed, I still found this adventure more entertaining and involving than another recent film about a perilous journey into the Amazon jungle with the recent The Lost City Of Z.