Like a swift left-hand jab, Jungleland has popped up out of nowhere in this year’s jumbled cinema landscape. It’s a film that seems destined for streaming queues – starring two actors you probably recognise from “that thing they did a few years ago”, with a plot that sounds inviting enough to give it a shot. You’ll be glad you did.
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Directed by Max Winkler (son of Henry ‘The Fonz’ Winkler), Charlie Hunnam plays Stanley Kaminski, the fast-talking manager of his boxer brother Walter, who he affectionately nicknames Lion. Walter was once a talent to be reckoned with, but Stanley’s mistakes have led them down a murky path, making a little money from bare-knuckle fights and sleeping in abandoned buildings.
Stanley runs up a huge debt with a gangster (Jonathan Majors), who forces them to escort a young girl named Sky (Jessica Barden) to Reno on their way to a major bare-knuckle tournament.
On the surface, this is like a lot of indie movies. Inter-family manipulation, a road trip, a dreamy soundtrack. Bit somehow Winkler takes these elements and makes them fresh. He allows his characters to breathe, revealing a group of people scrambling to escape their circumstances. It’s like a Springsteen song come to life. The gloomy neon lighting and horn-heavy soundtrack give it the aura of a modern-day fairy tale.
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It would be easy to dismiss Hunnam’s performance as “just another con man looking for the big score”, until the layers are peeled away and we see something more. Stanley’s story is that of an unremarkable man clinging to potential greatness. He reveals his hand when talking about Walter: “He’s special, and I’ll never know what that’s like”.
O’Connell is a talented actor, whose career has been weighed down slightly by the ‘Next Big Thing’ tag that followed his 2013 breakthrough in Starred Up. As Walter, he’s an endearing lug with a dream of owning a dry-cleaning business. His blossoming romance with Barden’s Sky is sweet in a grubby kind of way. “You lied to me, you drugged me, and you crashed our car” he says in one scene, to which Barden dryly replies “doesn’t mean I don’t like you”.
A road movie is about enjoying the time you spend with characters, and in that sense Jungleland is a trip worth taking. An understated exploration of brotherly love and broken dreams, it stands out in a crowded weight class.
Jungleland is available on demand from 30th November
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