The newest fighting drama Jungleland feels like a cross between The Fighter and Of Mice and Men. Like the former film, it emphasizes on the tempestuous nature of siblinghood to the point where there’s little high-octane fighting sequences. As for how Jungleland compares to the latter, it follows two men going across the country in pursuit of the American Dream, dealing with the complications of going on such a venture.
Stanley Kaminski (Charlie Hunnam) serves as the “George Milton” of the brotherly duo as he’s quick-witted and uses his brother Lion (Jack O’Connell) as an opportunity to build a better life while serving as his loyal guardian. Although Lion isn’t mentally disabled in the same manner as Lennie Small, he’s still challenged in some way as he knows more about fighting than how the world generally runs and goes along with everything Stanley does without ever questioning Stanley’s rationale behind each decision he makes.
Even if Stanley doesn’t always make the wisest decision, he’s still a fascinating walking contradiction brought to life by Charlie Hunnam. He masterfully showcases Stanley’s swaggering charm as he schemes his way into a potentially winning scenario along with his volcanic petulance when he’s called out on his missteps. Additionally, as Lion, who’s a man of few words, Jack O’Connell’s booming line deliveries still speak volumes with his expressive eyes revealing his open heart.
That being said, both lead actors are matched tit-for-tat with Jessica Barden who plays Sky, a woman who Stanley and Lion are forced by crime boss Pepper (Jonathan Majors) to escort across the country. Although she may be the sole woman in the principal cast and becomes a love interest for Lion, Barden and co-writer/director Max Winkler avoid making her archetypal as Barden plays Sky with a street-smart, fiery edge. Jonathan Majors is a similar standout as the aforementioned Pepper even if he’s tasked with making the most of his limited screen time.
However, an underused Majors is a minor flaw compared to the storyline conventions. Other than the Of Mice and Men parallels, Jungleland hardly offers anything new to the realm of underdog sports dramas. Its familiar story about an aspiring athlete being hit with life’s punches will have viewers feeling preoccupied by how they know where the story will go as it goes along.
Jungleland still manages to be worth the adventure thanks to Charlie Hunnam giving a career-best performance while he, Jack O’Connell and Jessica Barden serve as an engaging acting trio. It may not change the face of sports dramas, but it still is a viable genre entry. Nothing more, nothing less.