Hunnam is wonderful here. He plays Stan as a guy who once had some shine to him, easy charisma, but that charisma isn’t working so well anymore. At first it seems Lion is dependent on Stan, that Lion would be lost without Stan. Slowly, it becomes clear it’s probably the other way around. That anxiety is always flickering deep in Hunnan’s eyes, even at his most brash and loud. O’Connell is a quiet authentic presence, weighted down with pain, and it is touching to watch him loosen up as his bond with Sky deepens. Barden gives a fascinating performance: Sky lives in a dark and scary world, and she’s being handed around like property, but she is so tough and wily she gives Stan and Lion a run for their money. She’s got plans, just like they do.
The loose structure and minor-chord melancholy calls to mind films of the 1970s, films like “Scarecrow,” “Five Easy Pieces,” “The Last Detail,” “Tracks,” where lonely outsiders travel by bus, motorcycle, train, across the country, looking for something, or running from something, joining the exhausted tail-end of Jack Kerouac’s transcendental vision of the possibility of the American road. Something has been lost “out there”, if it ever existed at all.
Strangely, the nine-plus-minute song that gives the movie its title does not appear anywhere on the soundtrack (although “Dream, Baby, Dream” plays over the closing credits.) In his autobiography, Springsteen said of “Jungleland,” the closing track on his 1975 album Born to Run: “At record’s end, our lovers from ‘Thunder Road’ have had their early hard-won optimism severely tested by the streets of my noir city.” Stan, Lion and Sky are similarly tested. They operate (barely) in Bruce’s “Jungleland,” among the “the hungry and the hunted”, the “lonely-hearted lovers”, the “kids like shadows.” The film’s detours may irritate people who want a clearer through-line, who want them to just “get on with it.” When the plot re-asserts itself, the film gets very very busy during its final stretch, and it’s a break with the meandering mood of the rest. It briefly becomes another kind of movie altogether. Consider the ending of “Five Easy Pieces,” with that truck pulling away from the truck-stop, and driving off as the credits rolled, leaving the audience with questions, mainly: “But what about the woman inside? What happened to her?” We’ll never know. But overall, “Jungleland” stays true to itself. Like the song says:
“…the poets down here
Don’t write nothing at all.
They just stand back and let it all be.”
“Jungleland” is in theaters today and on VOD on Tuesday, November 10th.