The 400-Word Review: Jungleland
By Sean Collier
November 13, 2020
Perhaps the only modern touch in “Jungleland,” a fundamentally old-school movie, is acknowledging that its two primary concerns — boxing and the criminal underworld — are essentially irrelevant in the 21st century.
Our story, like so many that have dealt with the sweet science, concerns a hopeful fighter going nowhere and the unsavory characters he gets mixed up with. There are not, however, slickly presented matches broadcast to international audiences; there are brutal, bare-knuckle contests held in dingy speakeasies. Nor are there immaculately tailored mafiosos; there are low-rent, aging hoodlums, themselves just scraping by.
Boxing’s day has passed. So has that of the mafia. At least “Jungleland” knows that.
Other than that necessary acknowledgement of reality, it’s a serviceable if unspectacular film. Walter “Lion” Kaminski (Jack O’Connell) is a talented fighter, but he’s been banned from legal competition, the result of an attempted bribe proffered by his brother, Stanley (Charlie Hunnam). Stanley is his brother’s keeper, manager and exploiter; no one is more convinced of Lion’s potential, but it remains unspoken that Stanley also stands to profit, without having to get hit in the face.
When Stanley bets money the brothers don’t have on an upcoming fight — and Lion loses — a mid-level bigwig named Pepper (Jonathan Majors) makes a final offer. They’re off the hook for the money if they head to California to compete in an underground card; they just need to deliver a forlorn young woman, Sky (Jessica Barden), to Reno on the way.
Stanley knows that Sky’s future is not looking bright, but has no choice but to agree. Sky, meanwhile, sees a way out through the increasingly strained relationship between the brothers.
The relationship between Sky and Lion — partly romantic, partly advantageous, mostly in the middle of the two — is sweet and convincing. The fraying bond between Lion and Stanley is less sturdy; while “Jungleland” has a dynamite, moving conclusion, most of the film leading up to it will fail to convince the viewer that these two have made it this far without knocking one another out.
Director Max Winkler believes wholeheartedly in his film, which is presented as a great, aching drama, even when it cannot support its own weight. He’s hamstrung by Hunnam, who still can’t carry a film, but the rest of the cast serves well. “Jungleland” wins, by split decision, but it’s a shaky bout along the way.
My Rating: 6/10
“Jungleland” is available through digital on-demand services.