Review: Charlie Hunnam and Jack O'Connell try to salvage formulaic 'Jungleland'
Courtesy of Paramount Pictures
The American dream is front and center in Max Winkler’s bare-knuckle boxing drama “Jungeland,” a film that features three solid lead performances by, ironically, a predominantly British cast. The underdog narrative will seem overly familiar to anyone that’s recently watched “Warrior” or “The Fighter” follows two brothers - one a talented on-the-rise boxer and the other his screwed up trainer – as they end up in the small textile town of Fall River, Massachusetts barely making enough cash influx to fuel their next big trek.
So begins the saga of Stanley Kaminski (Hunnam) and his brother Walter, though known to most by his nickname “Lion” (O’Connell) who just go with the flow and squat in nearby buildings. The screenplay by Theodore B Bressman, David Branson Smith and Winkler wants us to understand their family dynamic and how precious this quest for a new life is. Cinematographer Damian Garica clues audiences into the struggle of rural, blue collar, America – and why the brothers are yearning to leave it behind – with powerful shots of decaying urban industries.
The two make an admirable but disjoined pair, Stanley is the brains behind their journey, while Lion does what he’s told without hesitation, believing his older brother only wants the best for him. While that’s true to an extent, there’s no denying that Stan sees the monetary value in Lion’s immaculate fighting abilities, going as far to throw down serious cash, that he can’t afford, in an effort to pay off his debt to local drug dealer Pepper (Jonathan Majors – criminally underused).
When that fight doesn’t go as planned, Stan has no choice but to enter Lion in a $100,000 Jungeland brawl in San Francisco to keep Pepper’s goons at bay. As part of their arrangement, they must take Sky (Jessica Barden) – a young women – to Reno with no problems. Equipped with cash, a dazzling new ride, and weaponry, Pepper sends the crew on their expenditures. Along the way, we find out that Sky had given up her normal, Christian upbringing and shacked up with a crime lord named Yates (John Cullum) in Nevada. And once you find out why he’s keen on getting her back, it might cause an eyeroll or two, stifling the positive momentum the film was starting to garner.
There’s conflicts and dilemma’s that ensure throughout “Jungleland,” especially Lion’s growing fondness of Sky and Stan’s excessive spending, both of which cause friction on their path to California. There’s a shift that occurs midway through the film, detouring from soft family drama into gangster thriller, of which Winkler can’t lock down a firm grasp on the storytelling. This despite Hunnam and O’Connell’s strong performances who are both allotted commanding monologues about everything they’ve done for the other inside a lowly diner. It’s a solid dramatic sequence that Winkler doesn’t know how to maneuver or shape into the remainder of the film. A signal that, while “Jungeland” is serviceable entertainment, can’t understand the tone it’s going for.
JUNGLELAND will debut in select theaters November 6th and be available on digital November 10th.