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DVD Review: Jungleland

January 19, 2021

By John Corrado

★★★ (out of 4)

The Kaminski brothers, Stanley (Charlie Hunnam) and Lion (Jack O’Connell), are working class guys struggling to make ends meet in the gritty drama Jungleland. Stanley acts as a promoter for his brother’s career as a bare-knuckle boxer, booking him scrappy local fights in order to earn some cash.

When Stanley is unable to pay back his debt to a ruthless crime boss (Jonathan Majors), he is asked to transport a young woman named Sky (Jessica Barden) to Reno, Nevada in exchange. Stanley and Lion are travelling across the country for a fight in California that comes with a one hundred thousand dollar prize, and Stanley agrees to drop her off along the way.

This leads to tensions between the two brothers, as family bonds are tested and new ones forged along the way. The film’s director and co-writer Max Winkler embraces a classic road trip structure to tell this story, and it’s a pretty engaging narrative choice. The boxing itself doesn’t exactly play second fiddle in Jungleland, as it remains an integral part of the story. But Winkler is certainly more interested in crafting a stripped down character drama than he is a more conventional feel good sports movie, and the film is all the better for it.

This is the latest feature from Winkler following his disappointing 2017 film Flower, and it’s the young filmmaker’s strongest, most mature work yet. It has the melancholic feel of a Bruce Springsteen song, with its scrappy depiction of working class struggles in decaying small towns recalling the bittersweet rock ballads that the American singer is known for. In light of this, it’s quite fitting that Springsteen’s “Dream Baby Dream” has been chosen to play over the film’s powerful climactic sequence, which is compelling for both its themes of family sacrifice and how it upends sports movie cliches.

The film is centred around Hunnam’s charismatic performance, which is among the finest the actor has ever given, with him bringing a magnetic intensity to the role that is hard to look away from. O’Connell compliments him quite well, bringing a quiet power to his performance as someone trying to both please and step out from under the shadow of an older sibling. Finally, Barden really feels like a discovery here, as the young actress allows innocence and vulnerability to show through her character’s tough exterior in a way that is quite effective.

The film has an underlying sadness to it that I found to be very compelling, and it ends up leaving quite an impact. With a trio of excellent performances from Hunnam, O’Connell and Barden, Jungleland is a gritty and low-key mix of boxing movie and crime drama that is well worth seeing.

Bonus Features (DVD):

The DVD includes no bonus features. A code for a digital copy is included in the package.

Jungleland is a Paramount Home Entertainment release. It’s 89 minutes and rated 14A.

Street Date: January 12th, 2021

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