Cinema Review: Jungleland | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Saturday, January 16th, 2021  


Studio: Vertical Entertainment
Directed by Max Winkler

Nov 05, 2020 Web Exclusive
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Moviegoers have seen countless scrappy sluggers, would-be contenders, and redemptive losers step into the ring. But what about their often sleazy managers? Charlie Hunnam viscerally conveys the desperation, dedication and occasional duplicitousness of such a man literally, though not always figuratively, in his boxer brother’s corner. In Jungleland, Hunnam’s Stanley Kaminski is a charismatic schmoozer for whom the jig is up, groping at one last against-the-odds bet to wipe his debts clean. His ace in the hole? Little brother Lion. He may lack his elder’s (supposed) street smarts and smooth talk. But Lion more than compensates with a right hook that could K.O. Goliath in just about any under the table bare knuckle brawl that the Kaminskis frequent in their dead-end town.

As played by fellow Brit Jack O’Connell, Lion’s gruff pugilist is far more understated than Hunnam’s extraverted elder. Yet, both are brutally effective as siblings bound by blood and poverty. Aside from their electric dialogue delivery, both strars grip the audience with go-for-broke physicality— Hunnam pressing his face against his little bro and demanding he roar as part of a pre-fight ritual; both of them playfully wrestling on the floor after booking a swanky hotel suite; their tearful amends before the boxing match of their lives. Under the intuitive eye of director Max Winkler (Ceremony), each knotted nuance of Stanley and Lion’s bond is laid bare. He not only achieves that with hovering closeups of the actors’ dialogue readings and reactions. Winkler’s camera also peaks through gaps in the ruggedly run down windows and shop shelves of the desolate towns the Kaminski brothers drift through, as they angle to bareknuckle brawl for a breakthrough. Indeed, Middle American poverty is a third protagonist in this story, haunting every frame as Stanley and Lion squat in abandoned buildings, psych themselves up for illegal boxing matches in grimy restaurant kitchens, and mount Greyhounds they can barely pinch pennies for.

The cast is rounded out by Jessica Barden as Sky, who offers Jungleland yet another palpably galled performance as a young stray whose motives remain grippingly unpredictable. Then there’s Jonathan Majors’ all too brief scenes as a practically Lucifer-in-the-flesh mobster named Pepper. When he confronts the Kaminskis about their debts, looking deviously dapper in a cream tailored suit, you’ll long to see a spinoff dedicated entirely to his coiled snake, scene stealing presence. Almost as chilling: a screen and stage veteran’s final act turn as an even more powerful gangster, whose shameless aims are the stuff of your worst nightmares (don’t spoil his scenes by looking the actor up until after the movie is done).

Like the young boxer it portrays, this is a hard hitting and unflinching drama that the faint of heart should never confront. But like recent grim pugilist flicks Warrior and The Fighter, Jungleland pays dividends for patient audiences who endure its bruising plot twists to find out how its vividly draw characters fair. This movie is also far more effective in that regard than either of those aforementioned films, or any other fight drama in a generation, thanks to its lack of cliches and no frills, fearless performances. Jungleland's jabbing scenes will indeed still sting in your mind’s eye long after the ref counts down, the bell rings and the credits roll.

Jungleland is out Friday, November 6, in select theaters, and will be available on Digital and Premium VOD on November 10.

Author rating: 8/10

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Average reader rating: 5/10


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