Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Zip It

Watching The Jacket means one has to be comfortable staring into the puppy dog eyes of (and occasionally, up the oddly shaped nostrils of) Adrian Brody. Considering this film was recommended to me by one of my favorite people who also happens to be the unofficial president of the Adrian Brody Stalker Society (or ABSS, as Christine Makepeace of Paracinema/my other half of The Feminine Critique ikes to call it), that all makes sense.

Quick Plot: Jack Starks is a young soldier who rather miraculously survives a gunshot wound to head in the Persian Gulf War. Discharged from the military with some form of amnesia, he wanders down a snowy Vermont road one day and comes upon the young Jackie and her alcoholic mother Jean broken down. Your consummate nice guy, Jack fixes their car before rudely being shoved on by Jean only to hitch a ride with a seedy Brad Renfro, who proceeds to shoot a cop and frame the AGAIN head-shot Jack.

After being declared insane from PTSD, Jack ends up in an asylum headed by Kris Kristofferson's experimental doctor. Every institution for the criminally insane seems to have one, and in this case, the fun starts after hours where Kristofferson and his dutiful orderlies tie Jack in the titular straight jacket and shove him into a morgue drawer. This sensory deprivation is apparently some form of sanity cure.

Or a means to time travel.

During his nightly sessions, Jack experiences an odd sort of freedom. There he is on the street, out of the asylum and free to spend Christmas Eve at the sad little home of a now full-grown Keira Knightley version of Jackie, who smokes and drinks through her raccoon eyeliner as she explains her mother's early cigarette infused death. It's not until Jack starts rummaging through Jackie's knickknacks that he discovers his dogtags, the very same ones he gave to a little girl so many holidays before that the pair realizes the rules of time are being rewritten by Jack’s psychosis.


The Jacket is, very intentionally, a DIFFERENT film, one that defies easy classification. Part thriller and part romance, it seems stubbornly set on being as much of its own thing as it can, something that’s a tad tricky when the influence of the superior (yet still underrated) Jacob’s Ladder cautiously haunts each frame. If you can let go of that comparison, the film is something special, if incredibly far from perfect.

Think of Lost if Lost were set during winter in a drab mental institution. Recognizable character actors stop by to play morally ambiguous supporting roles, including Jennifer Jason Lee as an earnest psychologist and Kelly Lynch as Jackie’s wino mom. The time travel is riveting, even if it doesn’t entirely add up. What’s real and what’s fantasy is left somewhat open, though sadly, Hurley never drives a VW bus, Sawyer never takes off his shirt, and nobody ever asks “Why are you telling me this?”

For reasons unknown, this is becoming a very shirtless review
So really, not like Lost at all.

High Points
Director John Maybury (a former production designer) brings an impressively unique look to the very scope of The Jacket, something wonderfully discussed on one of the DVD’s extra featurettes. The color palette is distinctive, and I imagine one watching JUST for the visuals would have quite a ball

Low Points
Brody grew on me throughout the film and ultimately ends up with a very sympathetic performance, but at the risk of awakening the dragon temper of Ms. Paracinema, does the dude have to deliver each line as if he was afraid of being shushed by a strict librarian?

Lessons Learned
Daniel Craig’s eyes are blue. Like, really, really really, really really really, very quite blue

Without flowers, it’s really difficult to get organized for the rapture

Be careful of the icy patch!

The Jacket is a tough film to recommend since it has such an odd, undefinable tone. The film was somewhat misadvertised as horror (probably accounting for its box office failure) but the feel is more eerie than scary. Still, the story is surprisingly involving and by the end, there’s something bittersweet about Jack’s saga. Like a lot of promising but imperfect films, The Jacket made me more excited to see something else directed by Maybury rather than to actually rewatch this particular film any time soon (especially when one rumored project is Macbeth starring Mean Sean Bean and Goddess Tilda Swinton). There’s an eye behind the camera and some interesting heart to Massy Tadjedin’s script. It just doesn’t quite come together in a fully realized way.


  1. I know I saw this in the theater back in '05 and I can't remember a thing about it even after reading your great review. Just nothing ringing a bell so I guess that says a lot. Enjoy this same problem in seven years.

    And all about the "Jacobs Ladder" love. For some reason I cannot rationally explain the scene in the bathtub full of ice is one of the scariest scenes ever in a film imo. It just creeps me out; even more so than the snake (or whatever that was) going through Miss Pena's legs. Great review as always.

  2. Thanks Jonathan! What's funny is that as a kid, I remember being TERRIFIED by the ads for Jacob's Ladder. I was truly surprised when I watched it as an adult just a few years ago and realized it was far less a horror movie than I expected. But like you said, it's INCREDIBLY unnerving. There are so many moments--the bathtub, the train faces--that stick out as terrifying, even though it ultimately doesn't quite fit into the horror genre. I feel like The Jacket was going for the same general tone, but the story just isn't anywhere near as involving (hence, I assume, your Memento-like memory of it).

  3. Literally the only thing I remember about this movie is it solidified my burgeoning girl crush on Keira Knightley. That's it. Not a single plot point comes back to mind, which may also be the reason that I don't think I've seen any other Adrien Brody film (is that possible?).

  4. You know, I also have something of a girl crush on Knightley. I think part of it is that I feel like there's this unwarranted hate thrown on her for being too skinny or snotty seeming, but I have never disliked her in a role and in others--Atonement, for one--I think she's positively brilliant. I STILL defend her as being one of the best things in the Pirate movies and wish to YOda that SHE'D played Padme (instead of her decoy) in Episodes I-III.

    It's possible not to see a Brody film. Or just not to hear him because all he does is whisper.

  5. Oh! And Never Let Me Go. She's AMAZING in that.

  6. I saw this back when it came out on DVD and really liked it quite a bit, though, I cannot remember a single thing about it. I do, however, love Sawyer.

  7. You know Freckles, I'm starting to think that maybe this movie comes with its own mind wiping aura? Nobody seems to remember anything about it, it's starting to creep me out!