7 July 2006 | Quinoa1984
one of those cases where the acting and direction (most of the time) is better than the script
Spike Lee's films are consistent in one respect, even for the lesser ones, which is that they're always pressing buttons. In the case of Jungle Fever, it's another work where messages come out more than from a guy on a postal route. But that's perhaps part of the point, where such points come in many forms and sometimes like a barrage. This time, it doesn't completely gel as well as Lee's Do the Right Thing, which also held anger, contemplation, humor, and pathos about city life. But this time it's also a tale of sexual morays, where both white and black sides have their share of racism and prejudices, and at the core is a story of outcasts. The interesting thing then about Jungle Fever is how Lee's own decisions in casting and in the unique way he shoots his subjects and implements a subjective take more often then not trump what comes out in his script. Then again, maybe it's close to being inevitable with how the elements mix, and at the end there are some parts of the film that are the best that Lee's done so far as a filmmaker.
Wesley Snipes and Anabella Sciora star as the said 'jungle fever' couple, the man being married with a kid, of all things to a woman who is also light-skinned and with her own 'issues', and the woman having an 'old-fashioned' Italian father. When their affair becomes known to both sides, the costs come out and they both become outcasts. And at the end of all of the points that are made in Jungle Fever by Lee, even through the ones that are pounded and (of the period) quite topical and prominent, this notion of society and culture being the biggest culprit is hard to ignore. This main point is made very well by Lee's script, and even as sometimes the script doesn't have the best dialog or lines a little 'too easy', if that makes any sense, there are many scenes which do support this to the fullest. And as the job of any good director is to cast right, this film is filled with a who's-who's of professionals and character actors.
One could go on as to who appears in the film, from Anthony Quinn to Tim Robbins to Ossie Davis to John Turturro, and they all fit their parts and contribute to adding a level of fascination in each. When the less desirable aspects peak in even more, it only adds to what ends up working on screen. Sometimes the script, as mentioned, is a little derivative and trying to touch ALL bases, with a but the film is more often than not alive due to (some of) the music at times. Maybe the most genius pieces of casting were Samuel L. Jackson, in (arguably) one of his very best performances, and Halle Berry. In a sense there are similar points made in the "A" storyline and the "B" one, where there is some extra interest in the supporting characters and their connection with the main ones. Jackson and Berry are crack-heads, and outcasts, and to their own degree have the same crap end of the stick as the leads to. Among many scenes where confrontations reach a great emotional intensity, the best comes with Snipes going into the crack-house and seeing just the purest dark side of society, what really does bring people down.
In the end, Jungle Fever is one of the Lee movies that is worth seeing, that may prove on a repeat viewing to bring even more thought than previous. It's energetic, somber, occasionally funny and shocking in equal measure.