Anyone looking for an upbeat diversion after Election Day might want to watch a movie other than Jungleland.
That’s not to say that the film isn’t worth viewing. But it’s a bleak experience that marks a vast departure for director Max Winkler, whose previous work includes comedies like 2017’s Flower and TV shows “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” and “New Girl.”
Jungleland follows brothers Stan (Charlie Hunnam, FX‘s “Sons of Anarchy”) and Walter “Lion” Kaminski (Jack O’Connell, Unbroken) as they pursue success in the underground world of bare-knuckle boxing. Lion was a promising Golden Gloves fighter, but any hopes of a professional career were ruined when Stan tried to bribe a referee.
So instead of gymnasiums and arenas, Lion competes in skeezy event spaces, hoping to win $100-$200 per bout — ugly brawls bereft of artistry or “sweet science.” Stan boasts of having “spectacular goals,” but for shelter they squat in a foreclosed house and train at a run-down YMCA. It’s a grim, dreary existence that Winkler — dedicated to his vision — keeps free of bright light, nice clothes and clean surfaces.
Stan’s continuing bad choices result in doing business with several unseemly characters, including crime lord Pepper (Jonathan Majors, HBO‘s “Lovecraft Country”). Facing major debt after Lion loses a fight outside Boston, Pepper gets them an opportunity for a big payday in San Francisco. But during their cross-country trip, the brothers have to transport a young woman, Sky (Jessica Barden, Netflix‘s “The End of the F***ing World”), to a fellow kingpin in Reno.
So, yes — if underground fighting wasn’t low enough, now these guys are human traffickers.
When it seems their situation can’t get any dirtier or worse, the Kaminski brothers get pushed deeper into the grime with fewer options to escape. However, this isn’t entirely a plot-driven story. All the characters are using one another for their own means, whether they realize it or not, giving the talented cast plenty of complex material to play with.
Best of all, what appears to be a predictable narrative works toward an ending that isn’t easily anticipated — which almost feels like a reward for following Jungleland through the muck.
Available to rent starting Nov. 10 via Amazon Video, iTunes and other streaming services