There were several things drawing me to this movie when I initially saw the trailer, one of which was the man vs nature scenario which when done well can be immensely exciting to watch. In recent times we have had many good examples of this such as Everest, The Grey and The Revenant. Another big draw was of course Daniel Radcliffe who has now proven beyond doubt that he is no one trick pony. There is the director Greg McLean who is responsible for such edgy, slightly whacky and often terrifying films such as Wolf Creek. Lastly is the fact that this is based on a true story and book written by the movie’s main protagonist. I was therefore intrigued to see how this might all come together and whether this had the makings of one of the great man vs nature movies of our time.
One big surprise to me, once the film had started was that Daniel Radcliffe was playing an Israeli – named Yossi Ghinsberg. I was initially concerned as if his accent wasn’t acceptable or his acting of a sufficient standard this otherwise serious drama would just appear absurd. Thankfully it is quite the opposite. Daniel Radcliffe couldn’t have distanced himself from the hapless young wizard at Hogwarts any more than he does in this movie. Within 20 minutes I had forgotten it was Daniel Radcliffe at all and he became his character, mastering the accent and mannerisms of the great adventurer his character is based on.
For the most part the supporting cast in this movie does very well, most notably the great Thomas Kretschmann who some may remember as the valiant Captain Englehorn in the 2005 King Kong movie. Kretschmann plays the experienced slightly mysterious guide to our three young adventurers, keen to step off he well beaten track and see something unique. Along side Radcliffe are Alex Russell (Kevin) and Joel Jackson (Marcus). Kevin is the brash (rude and slightly annoying) American and Marcus is more or less Kevin’s weaker, less interesting sidekick. Russell and Jackson do their part but nothing more, they are outshone at every turn by Radcliffe and Kretschmann who to be honest have elevated the status of this movie by some way.
The movie does take a while to get going and there are lot of introductory scenes where we are treated to some stunning jungle shots of the Amazon. For the most part these scenes to add value to the movie and show the extent and vastness of the rain forests. After a while though it did start to feel like the scenes had been overused and that better placement could have helped with the overall dramatisation of the plot as was done with Everest.
When the movie does get going it really kicks into gear and there are some very frantic and ‘as if you were there’ scenes filmed in the river rapids that really made you feel for the unfortunate party as they found themselves moving deeper and deeper in to the dense jungle. Also of note are the climbing scenes where Daniel Radcliffe has to get himself over the cliff and away from the river. These were some of the most dramatic in the movie.
Despite the epic location and the stunning scenery which is all very well shot, perhaps the best parts of the movie are the jungle nasties that plague poor Yossi at every turn. By this I mean; ants, snakes, leaches, Jaguars, mosquitoes and perhaps the worst thorn in his side the jungle foot rot which he seemed unable to escape for the duration of his ordeal. Daniel Radcliffe does a wonderful job of making you believe he is in real peril and judging by his frail physique had to lose a fair amount of weight as filming progressed (there wasn’t much of him to start with!). The peril very quickly turns to realisation, frustration and despair as he begins to hallucinate. Yossi Ghinsberg’s fighting spirit came through though and despite all that he faced and against all odds he fought on to try and find his way home.
There were several scenes in the movie that felt like they could have been left out altogether. For instance the hallucination about the native tribal girl (who looked distinctively western) or another one showing a buffalo in a fast food store. They do nothing to enhance the story or feel of the movie and simply feel like they are there to pad the film out. There is then the story itself, while it may be based on a true story it is drastically lacking any kind of depth that would make you feel and root for its characters. By this I mean we see four guys trek into the jungle, untrained, unprepared and with an oddball stranger – good start. This is the Amazon, they would be lucky to survive this alone. But to try and enhance their chance of death they then decide upon a cruise down a lethal river fraught with rapids and razor sharp rock upon a pile of sticks? (Darwin awards spring to mind). In this situation it was just hard to feel for them as they were their own worst enemies.
I also felt like the overplayed tension between Karl and Kevin took away rather than adding to the movie. I just couldn’t understand why a person who was totally reliant on another for their survival would want to antagonise that person as much as possible – to the point where they walked off and left them. This just felt completely unrealistic and any feelings you had for either character faded fast. The trio of friends all seemed to turn on each other far too quickly and without much explanation, other than ‘we need to keep going’.
Ultimately this was a good survival story but only for a few moments in the movie did I find it tense and exciting. It is perhaps more on par with Robert Redford’s ‘All is Lost’ than a thrill ride like The Revenant or Everest. What is did showcase was Daniel Radcliffe’s ability to turn his hand to more or less any role and the beauty and wonder on offer in one of the world’s last places of mystery, The Amazon rain forest.