In 1981, Yossi Ghinsberg (Daniel Radcliffe) decided to take a year out, against the wishes of his devout Jewish family, to travel the world and experience something of life before he settled down to study and work for the rest of his existence. He travelled from Israel to the United States, getting a menial job in New York City, then on to Las Vegas where he hoped to make a fortune but wound up losing almost all of his money. Undeterred, he didn't want to return home just yet so continued down to Bolivia where he found himself captivated by the nature there, and met three men who would become his friends: it was this party of four who would engage in a journey into the jungle to find a lost tribe...
But forget about the lost tribe part, because it was not a factor in this true story which was one of not only adventure but survival as well. Yet it was also a study of self-delusion for the men convinced themselves they were capable of carrying out this expedition, mainly thanks to the leader being Karl (Thomas Kretschmann), a man who clearly knew what he was doing and had lived in the jungle before. In fact, we are in little doubt he is well aware of what it will take to reach their remote destination, so when another explorer, Kevin (Alex Russell), begins an attempt to usurp his authority, alarm bells will ring, and you will be thinking Kev really should listen to the voice of experience.
Then again, when Kevin tells Yossi that his idea to go downriver on a raft they build was treated with scepticism by Karl because Kevin thinks he cannot swim, this was supposed to add an element of mistrust to a character who appeared to know how to cope in the red in tooth and claw rainforest. When Karl and Marcus (Joel Jackson), the other backpacker who was having trouble with his feet, opt to split up from the party of four to make two parties of two, heading back to civilisation and giving up on the lost tribe, it seems they had the right idea, and after advice from Karl to the remaining pair on how to survive the rapids and when to get off the raft, they go their separate ways.
All the way through this first hour you'll be anticipating something terrible happening even if you were unaware of Ghinsberg's ordeal - though the fact we are able to watch what he said happened should give you some notion of whether he cheated death or not. What this turned out to be was a variation on director Greg McLean's signature Wolf Creek films, only the "villain", if you like, led the potential victims into danger then abandoned them which was as bad as a murder bid according to the themes here. Therefore there was a horror element as Yossi got lost in the jungle and was subjected to all sorts of indignities and dangers, meaning you could get to see Harry Potter pull a worm from a bump on his head and squeeze out the juice it had left behind, among other disgusting activities.
Radcliffe was one of a select new breed of twenty-first century actors, Robert Pattinson was another, who made their fortune in a world popular franchise then was content to do whatever they wanted in their career from then on, so that meant challenging indies and eccentric, decidedly non-blockbuster choices where they could explore their craft and flex their acting muscles accordingly. Jungle was almost a parody of these efforts, so much did it demand of the star for a piece that was never going to be as popular as their most famous role, leaving his most ardent fans to appreciate him and fulfil their faith that there was a great performer lurking in there when their most famous role had not exactly stretched them, never mind demonstrated any terrific thespianism. As Radcliffe took centre stage for most of the final hour, he had to repay the trust of his team here, and he did so with commitment; there was a tale of survival of an individual as well as a race here should you care to delve that far, but in the main this was an absorbing excursion with a sting in the tale. Music by Johnny Klimek.