January 21st, 2018
Jungle, set in the early 1980s, tells the true story of Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli backpacker eager to explore the uncharted areas of the Amazon. Traveling with two friends he’d made along the way (Marcus Stamm, a Swiss teacher, and Kevin Gale, an American photographer), Yossi enlisted help to explore the jungle from an Austrian man named Karl Ruprechter, who claimed to know where to find an indigenous village deep in the Amazon.
The movie tells this story, no doubt with plenty of embellishment (though some of the true elements of the story that weren’t included in the film seem even more wild), and was shot in Australia, under the helm of Aussie director Greg McLean (Wolf Creek, The Belko Experiment). Daniel Radcliffe portrays Yossi, and presents the biggest quandary of the film to me.
It wasn’t until I looked up the real Yossi that I realised he was Iraeli, and not Russian, which is how Radcliffe sounded for the majority of Jungle. Yet the accent just isn’t fully there. At times Yossi sounded American, and particularly when Radcliffe had to raise his voice or shout, his natural British accent came out quite clearly. I respect the choice to attempt a different accent to be more faithful to the true story, but perhaps more work could’ve gone into it, both from Radcliffe’s performance, and maybe the director doing a few more takes when it doesn’t sound right.
This is only exacerbated near the end of the film when we see a flashback to Yossi arguing with his parents over his intent to travel the world. They all speak to each other in English. In some films, I get why this happens, but given the commitment to Yossi’s accent, I would’ve figured the attempt at realism would’ve carried over to playing out this scene in the correct language.
However, as I said it’s a quandary, as I can’t just write Daniel Radcliffe off because his accent was laughably off for 40% of the movie. Mainly because his performance was very, very good. Yossi goes through hell in the jungle, and it’s a testament to the crew who made this film that it comes across so vividly. Radcliffe sells the trials and the toll of surviving in the the wilderness so powerfully at times, and when his body begins to become affected, incredibly realistic (and wince inducing) make-up is used to make this painfully clear.
The relationships between the fellow travelers was believable and well performed, though Kevin Gale’s character seemed a bit uneven at times. That being said, going through the experience that these real men did, would no doubt test the most measured person’s patience, and maintaining an “even” manner would no doubt be very difficult. So perhaps it’s true to life, but it did strike me that his priorities seemed to shift from selfish to selfless rather quickly.
The real locations cannot be praised enough, as I’m sure it wasn’t an easy film to shoot, but the jungle is a character of its own here, and it needed to be tangible. There are scenes where our main characters are speeding down a river on a makeshift raft, fighting against the rapids, and it was very well done with hardly any tells of obvious CGI. So I bought into and believed the setting fully, which is key to everything that happens in the story.
The film really hits its stride when Yossi is fending for himself, and the old man versus nature theme explodes into full effect. While the whole movie doesn’t focus on this part of the story, there’s definitely a comparison to be made to The Revenant as far as being gripped by one man’s fight to survive against the elements. What really made this stretch effective though, was how McLean took us inside Yossi’s head, with some excellent editing and toying around with his loose grip on reality as his horrific lone survival endured.
Ultimately, it would’ve definitely been more appropriate to cast an Israeli actor to play Yossi, but would I have ended up watching it if they had? Not as soon as I did, I bet. Movies still need star power to draw in the viewer, and while Daniel Radcliffe is hardly the biggest name in the world, he is nevertheless a known name, and is likely to draw much more people to the film. And by that process, the incredible true story of Yossi Ghinsberg’s Bolivian jungle adventure will now be seen and discovered by more people than before. Achingly convincing, and while laden with a teeny bit of over dramatisation that it perhaps didn’t need, I thought Jungle was excellent.