Though familiar and formulaic in many ways, Jungleland digs deep into its characters and takes a unique path to emotionally powerful ending.
Brothers Lion (Jack O’Connell) and Stan (Charlie Hunnam), strapped for cash and with nowhere to live, rely on Lion’s boxing skills to win big. When a match goes wrong, the brothers are forced to travel across the country to compete in a brawl that could settle the debts owed to a local crime boss. Hunnam and O’Connell are perfect casting for these roles with Hunnam in particular delivering a striking performance. For O’Connell’s part, I have yet to see a film with him that I have not thoroughly enjoyed; he is one of the most underrated actors working today. Add in Jessica Barden, who plays a girl the brothers must transport to a sketchy character in Reno, and you have a trio that carries the film throughout. There is a raw emotion to this story, explored as we dive deeper into each of the characters’ psyches as the film rolls on. It is in its focus on the characters that Jungleland elevates itself to something fresh out of the expected tropes layered within.
Director/co-writer Max Winkler connects all of the pieces to deliver an emotional knockout in the final act, one that is predictable yet no less satisfying. The visuals within the film are also not to be ignored, with rich scenery setting the mood without having to be verbalized, creating an ambiance that works as the fourth lead character.
Jungleland is one of the best of 2020 (though initially screened in 2019) and available now on VOD.
Photo from Roger Ebert