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‘Jungleland’ Film Review | TIFF 2019

Jungleland is a film straight out of the 70’s.  Everything from the heavily influenced storyline to the pacing, provide a glimpse to films gone past.  The male centered melodrama based on the relationship between two brothers facing hard times as a bareknuckle boxer and manager is both refreshing and exhausting.  It is refreshing because this movie explores the sensitive relationship between traditionally masculine men: a subject matter which has been thrown out of favor in recent times. 

Conversely, the film seems exhausting because it may fall victim to taking too much inspiration from existing films.  One of my favorite quotes is, “good artists create, while great artists steal.”  You will often hear this said about Quentin Tarantino, whose whole film catalogue provides insight into what movies he is watching when each film is being made.  Jungleland attempts the same thing, however, lacks nuance in its execution. 

Films like, Rocky, Raging Bull, Cinderella Man, The Fighter, Warrior and Southpaw, are of similar subject matter, but bring more to the table creatively.  It is not as original as Rocky.  Nor is it as artfully executed as Raging Bull.  Jungleland is not as emotionally involved as Cinderella Man or Southpaw, but it is implicitly a good lesson in self-reflection, and more obviously the significance of having a close support system in the form of family. 

Jungleland is not the best boxing movie, nor is it the most original, but its obvious strengths are derived from the performances of its cast.  The intimate nature of the relationships is accentuated by the intimate size of the cast and production (with much of the film being shot on location in Massachusetts).  Jack O’Connell’s Lion, and Charlie Hunnam’s Stanley, are an authentic pair of brothers who show devotion to one another in their world of hardship.  Lion is the talented boxer who obediently listens to his older brother and manager, Stanley.   Working hard to help them have a better life, Lion tirelessly trains and competes to the detriment of his body.  He is mild-minored, and patient, always looking towards his brother for guidance.  Stanley is a more eccentric screw-up type.  He trains Lion, making sure the fighter eats and sleeps enough, while managing (and mismanaging) his career and best interests.  Their dynamic seems like a genuine embodiment of brotherly love and carries the film throughout.

After Stanley’s involvement with local baddie, Pepper (Jonathan Majors), the brothers are given the opportunity to resolve any past debts by fighting at a tournament across the country called Jungleland.  Pepper would get them into the tournament which has a cash prize of $100 000, if they bring teen runaway, Sky (Jessica Barden), to mob boss, Yates (John Cullum). From there the relationship between the brothers is complicated as they travel to Jungleland with the girl. 

The film’s locations convey the gritty life Lion and Stanley live, with its use of abandoned industrial buildings, low lighting and monochrome coloring.  Jungleland utilizes a lot of grey in its picture, leaving the viewer immersed in a hard world of blood and concrete.  By keeping everything dull, the atmosphere is properly established, maintaining the feeling of anticipation and desperation felt by the characters. 

Overall, Director, Max Winkler, does a good job at bringing to life the script he and his collaborators; Theodore B. Bressman and David Branson Smith, have been developing for almost a decade.  Jungleland may just be a little too derivative to be as successful as some of the films it takes inspiration from and may only have a niche following due to its nature.  That being said, the film has a discernable indie vibe to it – which along with the performances- provides it with a bit of charm even casual moviegoers would appreciate.  Although it is not very original in its plot, the execution of this 1-hour-and-30-minute feature is commendable. 

Rating: 7.5/10

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