Jungleland review – flimsy boxing drama pulls its punches

<span>Photograph: Claire Folger/AP</span>
Photograph: Claire Folger/AP

Stanley (Charlie Hunnam) and Lion (Jack O’Connell) are brothers, barely getting by on the wrong side of town. Lion has some talent as a boxer and Stan is his big-talking, relentlessly optimistic manager – so the plan is to drag themselves out of poverty in the time-honoured fashion, using only their fists and aggression. Plans go awry when Stan, in debt to a local loan shark (Jonathan Majors), is charged with delivering some mysterious human cargo (Jessica Barden) to the other side of the country, en route to a big-money tournament in San Francisco.

Underground-fight movies tap directly into a macho fantasy of self-reliance, but the recent economic downturn has given these narratives a desperate new relevance. However, this depiction of hardscrabble American life seems derived not so much from direct experience or empathetic observation, as from a handful of half-listened-to Bruce Springsteen albums. From the kitschy motel decor to the actors’ straggly beards, it all just feels like a bit of a put-on. Amid all this apparent deprivation, the dandified Majors looks as if he came direct from a GQ fashion shoot.

But then overelaborate costume seems a reasonable strategy to stave off boredom when the material is so slight. This crime-boss-by-numbers is beneath Majors’ talents. There’s much more going on in a three-way dynamic between controlling older brother Stan, long-suffering Lion and Lion’s flirtatious new friend, Skye. Is their connection genuine? Or just her desperate ploy to survive?

The performances are fine, but the questionable decision to cast not one, not two, but three Brits can’t help but intensify the off-putting sense of Americana cosplay.

• Jungleland is available on digital platforms from 30 November.