Review by Sean Boelman
The son of none other than The Fonz, young filmmaker Max Winkler has worked mostly in the comedy genre to this point, his first foray into more dramatic material is an interesting one. The boxing drama Jungleland is certainly on the conventional side, but the empathetic approach is mostly compelling nevertheless.
The movie follows two brothers who, in a last-ditch attempt to pay off a debt to a dangerous crime boss, set out on a cross-country journey to an underground bare-knuckles boxing match while escorting a traveler with a troubled past of her own. Blending elements of sports movies, crime thrillers, and family dramas, this isn’t anything particularly new, but the script’s emotional approach accommodates for its lack of nuance.
Since the film is trying to juggle all of these genres and storylines in its hour-and-a-half runtime, it undeniably ends up feeling a bit rushed. Entire arcs are left underdeveloped, compounding the already generic feel that weighs down the narrative. The sense of familiarity is noticeable at best and frustrating at worst.
Thankfully, the portion of the movie that Winkler and his co-writers focus on is effective and resonant. Quite a bit of time is spent developing the central relationship between the two brothers, so even though they are relatively archetypal on an individual level, the dynamic they share is really able to ground the film.
Charlie Hunnam’s leading performance is exceptional, standing out as something nuanced in a project that is otherwise very straightforward. That said, the way in which he approaches the character gains more pity than sympathy, which doesn’t seem to be the intended effect. In the supporting cast, Jack O’Connell, Jonathan Majors, and Jessica Barden are all solid but underused.
The movie also attempts to explore addiction, but it fails to go into as much depth as one would want. Because the external conflict is so by-the-book, it is the internal conflict that really allows the story to connect. However, this is largely abandoned by the final act as it becomes clear that the film is going to settle into a more obvious rhythm.
On the other hand, the visual style of the movie almost feels like it is trying too hard. The cinematography by Damián García and score by Lorne Balfe are both strong in their own right, but when put together, it feels as if the film desperately wants to be a gritty throwback to the classics of the dark criminal underworld.
Jungleland works for what it is, but it is clear that it wanted to be more and had the potential to do so. Still, thanks to great performances and a solid emotional core, the movie manages to be riveting despite its shortcomings.
Jungleland hits theaters on November 6 and VOD on November 10.