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Jacket, The Movie Review

originally posted many years ago

John Maybury's The Jacket is one of those movies you either love or hate-there's no middle ground. This movie is so deeply twisted in philosophical questions, the darkness of the subconscious, and the gray area between reality and delusion, that you can't feel just so-so about it. You either accept its ambiguous, winding train of thought, or you find it simply pompous. I am in the latter category. Granted, not all aspects of The Jacket are bad-Adrien Brody's performance is rather impressive-but the film's trippy surrealism is more off-putting than dramatically stimulating, and the logic of the narrative is impossible to follow. Some may find this film brilliantly confusing, but they will be in the minority-everyone else will want to know what the hell is going on.

Although The Jacket never really adds up, I don't think that Massy Tadjedin has written a purposeless screenplay. I'm sure that he and director John Maybury could sit me down and explain why The Jacket is so poignant and meaningful, because I'm sure that, deep down somewhere, this is a remarkably provocative story. Even in its badness, you can feel The Jacket moving toward something important. The problem is that the movie never reaches the script's final destination of philosophical epiphany. Maybury circles around The Jacket's deeper meaning aimlessly, as if he took a wrong turn somewhere and only got more lost by retracing his steps. Some scenes feel crucial and appear integral to the mystery, but they're abandoned or forgotten long before they can amount to anything. The Jacket tinkers with time travel, but never successfully and always with an unmistakable sense of goofiness. The movie even begins to explore spirituality, but even then, The Jacket isn't ponderous-it's vague and hard to piece together. A script this involving should be dealt with carefully, but Maybury went overboard and turned it into a heady, disconcerting mess.

The Jacket begins well, but as we try to embrace it, our arms fold around thin air. The first thing we see is Jack Starks (Adrien Brody), a Gulf War soldier, getting shot in the head by a little boy. Soon after, Jack is declared legally dead, but before the medics can haul his body away, he returns to life, barely and, by the tone of his voice, somewhat reluctantly.

The next scene takes place some time later, as Jack is wandering down an anonymous country road. He helps a drunk woman and her daughter fix their broken down car. He then hitches a ride with a shady looking man (Brad Renfro), who we know will lead Jack into trouble. Sure enough, when a cop pulls them over, the man shoots the cop and leaves Jack for dead. That's the last thing Jack remembers. The next thing we see is Jack in a courtroom being sentenced to a mental institution for a murder he did not commit.

This is where The Jacket gets weird. At the institution, a crazy doctor (Kris Kristofferson) subjects Jack to a horrible treatment. He heavily sedates Jack, wraps him in a straight jacket and slams him into a tiny morgue drawer for hours at a time. I'm not sure exactly why the doctor does this-maybe it's some sick reforming technique, like in A Clockwork Orange. Anyway, something strange happens in the drawer. Every time Jack enters, he is taken into the future, to the year 2007 where he has been dead for almost ten years. Here he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), the girl whom he helped at the roadside, who is now grown up and shocked to see Jack alive. Eventually, he convinces Jackie that he has somehow entered the future, and together they try to find out how Jack died and why he has pierced time's bubble.

Does Jack really travel to the future? Are these spiritual journeys genuine, and do they connect Jack's life to some other existence? Or are all these episodes mere examples of his "delusions"? The Jacket tries to solve these riddles, but, alas, it has lost their solutions. The movie attempts to make sense of Jack's out-of-body, inter-dimensional wanderings, but it trips over itself constantly, stumbling in the darkness of its own questionable logic. Part of the problem is that The Jacket moves way too fast. If only the movie would slow down for a moment and explain where we've been and how we've gotten to this part of the story; then maybe The Jacket could click back into gear. However, The Jacket whizzes by, throwing coherency to the winds and failing to draw us into Jack's mystery.

The one nice thing about The Jacket is that no matter how out of our reach the story gets, we always feel comfortable with Jack. Adrien Brody, who looks just as withered, destroyed, and emaciated as he did in The Pianist, plays Jack with implosive magnificence. He is the perfect choice for this role; there aren't many young actors who could balance Jack's fragile sanity and calm intelligence the way Brody does. In The Pianist, Brody's eyes were down turned and filled with sadness; here, he is often brooding and the smallest hot streak of anger governs all his actions. Brody's performance in The Jacket justifies his Oscar-we are reminded that he is truly capable of captivating things.

Keira Knightley isn't as good as Brody, if only because her character is absolutely useless. Knightley is a fine actress, but her performance here doesn't matter, since Jackie is only used to provide Jack with an obligatory romance and the movie with a truly awkward sex scene. Then there's Kris Kristofferson, who's so low-key that he's barely noticeable.

I can see what The Jacket was trying to do, but that doesn't make it any less a failure. Brody is an exception, but nearly everything else in The Jacket winds itself into a tight ball of confusion. By the end, the frustration and the incoherency close in on us, like the tiny black walls of a morgue drawer.

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