Charlie Hunnam and Jack O’Connell give understated performances as brothers in “Jungleland,” a new film from director Max Winkler. Stan (Hunnam) and Lion (O’Connell) are facing poverty, working at a sewing factory and squatting in empty homes. Lion’s skills as a bare-knuckle boxer are their only way out.
Stan ropes them into driving cross-country from Boston to be part of a fighting tournament in San Francisco, with an added catch from a bad-news bookie: they have to deliver Sky (Jessica Barden) to Reno on their way, for reasons they don’t know yet.
With $100,000 on the line and a long drive West, the true nature of Stanley and Lion’s relationship is revealed – and their newly-strained family dynamic might just be their most important fight.
“Jungleland” thankfully never ventures into boring old tropes: there are no delays in their travels, only tension and interpersonal conflict that makes the writing far more interesting than the car repairs and detours. The 92-minute run-time provides the perfect framework for this journey, described as “a love story between two brothers.”
Both actors are eminently watchable, making for a realistic and sometimes tragic pair. O’Connell in particular exudes something special, the same way he did as a prisoner of war in Angelina Jolie’s woefully underrated “Unbroken” about the remarkable true story of Louie Zamperini. Both lead actors are refreshingly easy to watch, even when the plot feels painful. The stakes are refreshingly low – though they’re in debt and tied to sketchy characters, the small moments of humor and detail on their trip makes it feel like more of a character study of two brothers and a troubled girl than a plot-driven drama.
With remnants of “The Fighter,” “Jungleland” is not a boxing movie as much as it is a story of brothers with conflicting motivations, and varying levels of decency. Though it lags in the last half-hour, Winkler’s film co-written with Theodore Bressman and David Branson Smith is ultimately a compelling story about family ties, desperate poverty and deciding between what’s right and what’s necessary.
“Jungleland” debuts in select theaters Nov. 6; on premium VOD and digital platforms Nov. 10.