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Jacket, The (2005) Print E-mail
Friday, 04 March 2005
The title refers to a strait-jacket the leading character is bundled up in before being shoved into a chamber in a morgue. This is a form of extreme psychotherapy, but while it does seem to make our hero a bit more sane, it also sends him traipsing through time. It’s an interesting idea and the movie has a satisfying, if puzzling, ending. But it’s jumbled, scrambled and pompous in its efforts to be oh-so-stylish. And it’s vastly overplotted.

It opens with the hero announcing that “I was 27 years old the first time I died.” That’s arresting and intriguing. We see him an American soldier, being very humane in the Gulf War—but his well-intentioned efforts result I his being shot through the head. He recovers in a Red Cross tent, but his memory is impaired. The scenes of war, all filmed in a hot orange light, recur again and again throughout the movie, usually in highly fragmented clips, just a couple of frames at a time. This is vivid and memorable—and has nothing at all to do with the rest of the story.

Later, in his native Vermont, the veteran, Jack Starks (Adrien Brody)—is anyone really named “Starks”?—is hitch-hiking on a wintry highway when he meets drunken Jean (Kelly Lynch) and her ten-year-old daughter Jackie (Laura Marano), stranded with a disabled pickup. Jean’s so out of it she doesn’t notice when Jack fixes her pickup. Jackie’s interested in him, and he gives her his dog tags before Jean angrily drives him away.

He’s picked up by a cheerful guy who soon kills a cop, then skedaddles. Jack, whose memory still isn’t working right, can’t help in his own defense and he’s sentenced to Alpine Grove, an asylum for the criminally insane. Scheming Dr. Becker (an almost unrecognizable Kris Kristofferson) soon decides that Jack is perfect for his new form of therapy, as described above. (Even though the movie is too plotty, it never gets around to dealing with the cop killer. He just vanishes.)

While poor Jack is inside the corpse drawer, his mind flashes back on his wartime experiences, the shooting of the cop and other briefly-glimpsed events. And then he finds himself outside the hospital, standing alongside a road. A young woman (Keira Knightley), who clearly has a lot of problems of her own, picks him up and allows him to sleep in her cluttered apartment. She drinks too much, she’s bitter and lonely. And when Jack finds his own dog tags, he knows she’s the grown-up Jackie. He’s somehow moved ahead in time to 2007. Jackie, not surprisingly, finds this hard to believe, but he proves his tale is true.
The movie progresses both in the original setting of 1992 and in 2007. Jack learns that he died just a few days after his corpse-drawer “therapy” began. And that Jean fell asleep while smoking and was killed in the fire that resulted. He also learns that Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), an Alpine Grove therapist much more sympathetic than Becker, managed to cure a boy she was treating back in 1992. As Jack zips back and forth in time, he tries to find a way to save himself, to benefit Jackie and to help Lorenson find the right therapy for her young patient, the son of her best friend.

The screenplay by Massy Tadjedin was adapted from a story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco. It’s very intelligent and the characters are, for the most part, well-developed, but it’s so complex you spend much of your time just sorting out the plot rather than being focused on the characters. A movie shouldn’t be a chore to watch, unless that’s part of the point, but “The Jacket” combines a fragmented visual approach with a fragmented plot, and it never quite comes together, even though the ending is particularly warm and appealing.

Adrien Brody won an Oscar for Best Actor for his work in “The Pianist,” but he’s not likely to get many accolades for his performance here. He’s agonized, he suffers, he makes lame wisecracks—and he falls in love with Jackie. This probably should have been the focus of the movie, but director Maybury merely sketches this in; once it’s quickly established, we’re to take it for granted. We don’t see the relationship develop, and we should have.

Keira Knightley, the best thing about “King Arthur,” is handed a sour apple of a role: her character is so despairing and bitter that she’s very hard to relate to. When she begins helping Jack with his several quests, her personality is simply put on hold. On the other hand, at the end, she plays Jackie so very differently that it’s amazing that it’s still the same actress. Knightley is still growing as an actress, but she’s one of the most promising newcomers of the last ten years.

With his hair and beard dyed dark, Kristofferson looks very different from his usual onscreen self as this not-quite-mad scientist. Without much help from the script, Kristofferson shows us the idealist buried well within this physician who has disregarded the first element of the Hippocratic Oath—“first, do no harm.” He’s long since ceased to think of his patients as human beings; they’re just test subjects. We don’t ever find out what happened to him between 1992 and 2007, but when we see him in the future, he’s a raddled, destroyed man.

It’s very unusual when a movie is less than it could have been because it’s too intelligent, but that happens here. “The Jacket” wants to be a drama and a thriller, but doesn’t effectively integrate those two styles, and stumbles too because of the fragmentary nature of Jack’s memory bouts. It’s an interesting and ambitious movie, but it doesn’t live up to its own goals.

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