Jagveld is an outback crime thriller based on the novel by Deon Meyer, which tracks the journey of a young woman, who is pursued by a gang of drug smugglers after she witnesses them killing a traffic officer. Byron Davis makes a directorial debut working with a notable South African ensemble in Leandie du Randt, Neels Van Jaarsveld and Tim Theron.
Jagveld is in the same league as Beyond the Reach and Desierto, as a cat and mouse hunt unfurls over a dry and dusty landscape. While similar, Meyer's story has a fresh twist turning the prey into a wiley predator as we get up-to-speed with a Tomb Raider style heroine. It would have been much edgier if the film had hinged on current socio-political issues in South Africa with a similar bent to Desierto, but it's more concerned with kicking ass and driving its vengeful brand of feminism, despite the overt sexualisation of its lead.
The casting of Leandie du Randt, makes it seem like the part of Emma was written with her in mind, taking us from her pre-school teacher job and pacifist mindset into much darker and dangerous terrain. While being blonde and wearing hot pants puts her in a box, it's her hiking boots, MacGyver temperament and tough-as-nails determination that makes the character relentless and complex like Bambi with an AK-47. While Neels van Jaarsveld is dealing with a fairly stereotypical Western style villain, he oozes cool menace, looks imposing against the skyline and it would've been great if they'd unpacked the character of Bosman more. Tim Theron looks like he spent a lot of time bulking up and while breaking new ground as a bad guy, adds brute force as the second-in-command, Piet.
Jagveld is a low budget production, but it's incredibly resourceful, leaning on the talents of its posse and using the desolate outback terrain to good effect. The visuals are compelling, taking notes from epic Westerns as tracking and survival tactics come into play. Unfortunately, Jagveld gets bogged down by inconsistencies, far-fetched story ideas and fundamental flaws. A smaller crew of criminals would've given us a chance to know the henchmen and leaders better, giving depth and realism preference over body count.
It's promising yet tonally-challenged, starting like an indie crime thriller and then deviating into a Tarantino-style action comedy caper, never completely comfortable in its own skin or with its overarching vision. While suspenseful, a few unintentional laughs and some cheesy one-liners loosen and break the grip. The intensity is dissipated by comic relief as it moves from a cold-blooded thriller in the vein of Desierto into the pulp kingdom and comic book stylings of Hollywood. Contrivances and a few missteps spoil its arthouse ambitions, yet it remains entertaining as a lightweight "skop, skiet en donner" thriller.
Part of the joy is in watching the cast turn to their dark sides, and while a mixed bag, its refreshing and admirable to see a trickier genre film emerge from South Africa. The twists-and-turns keep it loosely compelling if you're able to just roll with it and the father-daughter back story keeps it emotionally present like a reverse version of Taken. The screenplay is flawed and some of the dialogue is clunky, but Jagveld is a fun ride if you liked Beyond the Reach and Desierto.
The bottom line: Fun