The Jacket

Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
The Jacket

The Jacket
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews Laura Clifford 
Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is a member of an army unit fighting in Iraq during the Gulf War. At the end of a tense raid, he tries to befriend a young boy, who pulls a gun and shoots the soldier in the head. Thought to be dead, Jack miraculously comes back to life but, after a year of rehab, he still does not have his memory back. When he is arrested, later, for the murder of a state trooper, he can’t remember a thing and is declared insane. He ends up in the hands of a mad scientist psychiatrist, Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), whose radical form of “treatment” forces his patients to wear “The Jacket.”

Jack’s Gulf War trauma and its subsequent effect on his memory have made him an outsider in his old world. After his “rehabilitation,” which did nothing to restore his mind, he is sent off to fend for himself. Packing his duffel bag and dog tags, to remind him of whom he is, he heads off to parts unknown. Along the road he meets a young girl, Jackie (Laura Marano), and her distraught, drugged up mother Jean (Kelly Lynch), whose pickup truck has broken down. He gets the truck running but, before he can even think of asking for a ride, Jean strikes out, screams at him to get away, jumps in the truck and takes of. A while later Jack hitches a ride from a stranger (Brad Renfro) who proceeds to gun down the state trooper that pulled him over.

Jack, now a murder suspect, can remember little more than glimpses of people and things, can’t defend himself and is found criminally insane. He is sent to a mental hospital (which, from the actions of the staff, is Draconian on a good day) and placed in the hands of Dr. Becker for treatment. He is drugged up with a variety of pharmaceuticals then, without warning, dragged from his cell by two burly orderlies, brought to a basement room where he is trussed up and immobilized in a straight jacket and, to his horror, slid into a morgue body locker.

Terrified, Jack begs to be let out and begins to experience disjointed flashbacks to his forgotten past. After a few hours he is released from his confining crypt and sent back to the ward where he meets another inmate, Rudy McKenzie (Daniel Craig). Rudy, who may have been through the same medieval-style treatment, gives Jack advice on how to survive the sensory deprivation and project his mind away from his personal horror. Jack had an experience while under the treatment of the jacket where he is projected into the future. He meets the grown up version of Jackie (Kiera Knightley) and convinces her that he, nearly 20 years ago, was the guy who saved Jackie and her mom.

Once this “Back to the Future” premise is established, The Jacket” takes on an air of having Jack make things right in his world, restore his mind, get the girl and live happily ever after. There is an air of trying to cover too much ground in “The Jacket” as it combines the essence of such films as “Altered States” and “Jacob’s Ladder” and includes, at least on a cursory level, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” As such, the film, directed by John Maybury, takes the story by Tom Bleeker and Marc Rocco (with scripter Tassy Tadjedin) and tries to make it a time travel saga, love story, psychological thriller and horror yarn all rolled in to one. It’s a bit too much story to stuff into 102 minutes but, at times, it works well.

The acting, while not outstanding, is solid across the board. Adrien Brody proves his mettle as an actor and gives a harrowing performance as a man whose past, present and future are a confused jumble that he must, somehow, sort out. Kiera Knightley is, initially, distracting as the adult Jackie. The actress too self consciously kept touching her mouth and dragging drinking glasses across it in a way that made me feel she was not paying attention to the proceedings. Fortunately, as the story rolls out, the presence of her character is dissipated by the action and Jack’s fight to break away from his tormentors.

Others in supporting roles include Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Lorenson, a psychiatrist in the hospital who tries to help Jack. His trips to the future help her to cure an ailing young boy experiencing seizures are a subplot that may have been unnecessary but it is nice to JJL on the screen. Kris Kristofferson is saddled with the mad scientist role but his craggy face is, as always, interesting (much of which is shot in extreme close-up by cinematographer Peter Deming who use the copious close-ups, especially of Brody, to good affect). Kelly Lynch is solid as little Jackie’s junkie mother and does what she can with the miniscule role. Laura Marano is notable as the child Jackie.

Techs are first rate with Deming’s expert lensing, which helped define the claustrophobia of being in a straightjacket and thrust into a body locker. That image alone brings shivers to my spine. Douglas Hall’s costume design, especially the title garment, works well within the concept. Alan MacDonald’s production design also fits the bill. The much discussed nude sex scene between Jack and the adult Jackie is overblown and adds little to the film or the story.

The Jacket” tries to do many things and succeeds in a fair portion of them. The future-past dichotomy is well handled though I don’t know if it will stand up to the scrutiny of repeated viewings, as a film like The Sixth Sense” does. There is a distinctive creep factor infused in the film that helps bring it up a notch in the psychological horror category. I give it a B-.

Jack Starks (Adrien Brody, "The Village") returns from the Gulf War in 1991 after having been shot by a small Iraqi boy he was trying to comfort.  Twelve months later in his home state of Vermont two more life altering events happen.  First he meets a little girl, Jackie (Laura Marano), with her strung-out mother (Kelly Lynch, "Joe Somebody") and broken down truck.  Jack fixes the vehicle, gives Jackie his dog tags (we just know we'll be seeing these again, probably in a strange setting) and moves on.  A stranger (Brad Renfro, "Ghost World") picks him up, gets pulled over, shoots a cop and pins the murder on Jack before abandoning the scene.  Jack's trauma causes memory loss and he's found criminally insane.  At the Alpine Grove Psychiatric Hospital, Jack falls prey to Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson, "Blade: Trinity") who uses him to experiment with behavior modification therapy banned in the 1970's.  Jack's shot up with neuroleptic drugs and imprisoned in a morgue drawer for hours, trussed up in "The Jacket."

This odd hybrid of a film was produced by Jon Guber in partnership with Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney's Section Eight Films with British art director John Maybury ("Love is the Devil") at the helm of this sci-fi/horror/romance/thriller (story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco, screenplay by Massy Tadjedin) featuring a cast of English and American actors and locations in Scotland and Canada.  The cast is uniformly excellent and the production is artfully eerie, even if the story is a Frankenstein of borrowed movie parts that don't always fit together seamlessly.

'I was 27 the first time I died...' Brody narrates as we watch heat seeking missiles find their targets in grainy green footage that gives us the impression of night vision goggles. Twelve months later, we're transported into the Stephen King territory of "Riding the Bullet" before Jack promptly lands in the weirdness of "Kingdom Hospital."  After a period of calm, tranquilized on drugs, Jack is yanked out of his bed in the middle of the night by Nurse Harding (Mackenzie Phillips, TV's "One Day at a Time"), taken to the basement, outfitted in a straight jacket, given an injection and slid into a morgue drawer as if being buried alive.  Cinematographer Peter Deming ("I Heart Huckabees," "Mulholland Drive") gets us right inside with Jack by using extreme closeups of his eyes, where war flashbacks are projected onto his pupils, his mouth, the camera travelling right past his teeth as he screams, and his bound hands helpless at his sides.

Jack's second experience, though, isn't quite as horrible.  After several Iraqi mind zaps, Jack suddenly finds himself outside of a diner in the snow.  A wary waitress (Keira Knightley, "King Arthur") eyes him from her car, then asks if he needs a lift.  It's Christmas Eve and he ends up at her small hovel of a home where she chain smokes and drinks herself into a stupor.  Poking around, Jack finds his dog tags, then pictures of the young girl and her mother from a year ago.  Jack has landed in 2007 and he becomes determined to save the woman the little girl Jackie has become from following in her mother's footsteps.  By his next treatment, they've fallen in love, but Jackie's done some investigating of her own and discovered that Jack was found dead on New Year's Day of 1993, only days away back at Aspen Grove.

"The Jacket" is patched together with pieces of "The Butterfly Effect," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Altered States" and "The Crow," among others, but some of its own conceits do not work particularly well.  The character of Dr. Becker is ill defined, seemingly only motivated by sadistic and egomaniacal tendencies in 1992, but coming across as genuinely contrite and well-intentioned in 2007.  A significant subplot involves Jack's advice to Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh, "In the Cut") regarding her treatment of a friend's autistic child, but he gets the information from her in 2007 and feeds it back in 1992 - there is no genesis of the actual idea, a time travel conundrum that isn't logical (a similar routine, where Dr. Becker tells Jack about other patients undergoing his treatment in 2007 only to have Jack inexplicably know this in 1992 does work because obviously Becker would have known this information).  Jack's visit to Jackie and Jean again in 1992 after having made love to Jackie in 2007 carries an unsettling whiff of pedophilia.  One also wonders why the filmmakers did not take advantage of commenting upon Bush Jr.'s war in 2007 when the action begins with his father's version in 1991.  And yet, the film works in far more ways than it doesn't.

Brody and Knightley have an instantaneous spark of sexual chemistry that makes his gambits to return to the horrific drawer understandable.  One provocation is particularly amusing, when Jack supports fellow patient Rudy Mackenzie's (Daniel Craig, "The Mother") ramblings about the Organization for the Organized in group therapy, beginning a mini riot.  Craig, whose inevitable breakout role must be just around the corner, brings such conviction to dialogue like 'the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse didn't bring flowers which makes it really difficult to get organized' that he almost makes sense.  Jennifer Jason Leigh is quiet and still, giving Lorenson an air of gravity and true regard for her charges (she's subtly aged, as well, with 1992 eyeglasses obscuring the small lines around her eyes that we see in 2007).  Also good is Kelly Lynch as the junkie mom, who receives a strange wakeup call from Jack akin to Darla in The Crow.  (Another subtlety - note the poster of David Bowie's Aladdin Sane album cover briefly seen in Jean's living room.)

Brody is forging a strange career for himself, his last role as the mentally-challenged Noah in "The Village" a grating contrast to the Oscar winning one which preceded it.  "The Jacket" may not be the type of film the Academy takes notice of, but Brody's twitchy hysteria is the stuff of nightmares and his tender courtship the material of dreams - a crystallizing performance.


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