The Jacket (2005)

In The Jacket, Adrien Brody plays a mentally disturbed soldier sentenced to spend his days in a treatment facility. He gets strapped into a straight jacket and locked inside a morgue drawer as part of his “therapy.” Inside these closed quarters, for whatever unexplained reason, Brody has the ability to travel through time. This got me thinking about some other weird/lame ways people travel through time in films. In 2004’s The Butterfly Effect a bearded Ashton Kutcher is able to jump through time by reading his childhood journals. Sure this is weird, and may give false hope to a nation of gloomy journal-scribbling teenagers, but when it comes to incompetent time travel techniques, 1980’s Somewhere in Time is number one with a bullet. Christopher Reeve’s character desperately wants to travel back to 1912. So he removed all modern furniture, clothing, and anything post-1912. Then he lies down on his hotel bed and keeps repeating to himself that he’s living in 1912. Somehow this works and Reeve gets to embark on romance, 1912-style y’all.

Jack Starks (Brody) is a helpful and well-meaning guy that just can’t catch a break. As a soldier in the 1991 Gulf War, an Iraqi kid he was trying to befriend shoots him in the head. When he returns home he starts a long trek through the Northeast. Starks helps out a mother and daughter whose car has stalled. He befriends the non-gun wielding little girl, Jackie, but her drunken mom nearly accosts Starks and they drive away. Then he gets a ride with a drifter (Brad Renfro). They get pulled over by a cop. The drifter kills the cop; Starks gets knocked out and framed for the murder. He’s sentenced to spend the rest of his days in a clinic for the mentally disturbed. And you thought you were having a bad day.

The operator of the clinic (Kris Kristofferson) has some unconventional methods of therapy, like locking Starks in a straight jacket and sliding him into a morgue drawer. Inside this confined space Starks can zip through time to 2007. In the future he goes home with an angsty young woman (Keira Knightley) who, surprise, ends up being an adult Jackie, the girl he helped at the side of the road. They’re both confused and freaked out, but what spooks Starks even more is the knowledge that he dies on New Year’s Day, 1993. Starks must now get into that jacket so he can visit 2007 some more, fall in love with Jackie, and piece together clues to prevent his soon-to-be death.

Brody seems to be having as much bad luck post-Oscar as Halle Berry and Nicole Kidman. He’s in some funk playing glum character after glum character. Brody and his gaunt figure do have a natural haunted quality and he does excel at emoting grief and horror (hence the 2002 Best Actor Oscar for The Pianist). Brody gives the film more intensity than it deserves.

Knightley is a decent actress but has little to work with. Her role is wrapped in a slab of Gothic traits posing as characterization. When she talks it sounds like she has a cold. I don’t know if this is because of her attempted American accent, the glum character, or maybe she just had a cold from all that outdoor shooting in the snow.

Director John Maybury has the irritating habit of filming scenes entirely in jagged close-ups. Two people will be talking and then -WAM!- huge close-up of an eyeball. Then -POW!- giant mouth filling up the screen. Then -WAM! (again)- more of the same. This editing decision is a distraction but it also lacks purpose. It doesn’t effectively communicate character emotion or scene tension; it just annoys the crap out of you.

The Jacket is fairly interesting for a good while. The premise is almost ingenious: a man must travel to the future to collect information to prevent his mysterious death in the past. The Jacket adds further intrigue with the question of whether Starks really is traveling through time. Maybe he truly is disturbed and this is all in his head. Sadly, but as expected, The Jacket disproves this tantalizing possibility after an hour of tease.

When the film does transition into its final half, the possibility it showcased seems to go slack. The answers seem either overly tidy or simply anticlimactic, like the truth behind Starks’ death. The Jacket opens strong and strings us along with some intriguing prospects but the end results merely peter out the film’s potential until The Jacket seems completely drained of blood.

Their relationship also has some unexpected creepy moments. Starks, in 1992, visits the little girl he will eventually have sex with in 2007. Yes she’s an adult when they take their tussle in the sheets, but having him later visit her when she’s a child is just plain cre-eeeee-py.

For a while, The Jacket aims to be an intelligent mind-bender but the film squanders its potential. The answers don’t seem nearly as thought-out as the film’s initially intriguing questions. Brody gives the movie more brooding intensity than it deserves, and Knightley shows why she should never be allowed to film a love scene again (in a case of life imitating art, Brody and Knightley are currently dating). The Jacket is irritatingly directed, alternating between pale shots of white wilderness, extreme close-ups, and overkill on style. The Jacket seems like a nice fit for a while but becomes too frayed to be memorable.

Nate’s Grade: C+

About natezoebl

One man. Many movies. I am a cinephile (which spell-check suggests should really be "epinephine"). I was told that a passion for movies was in his blood since I was conceived at a movie convention. While scientifically questionable, I do remember a childhood where I would wake up Saturday mornings, bounce on my parents' bed, and watch Siskel and Ebert's syndicated TV show. That doesn't seem normal. At age 17, I began writing movie reviews and have been unable to stop ever since. I was the co-founder and chief editor at PictureShowPundits.com (2007-2014) and now write freelance. I have over 1400 written film reviews to my name and counting. I am also a proud member of the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA) since 2012. In my (dwindling) free time, I like to write uncontrollably. I wrote a theatrical genre mash-up adaptation titled "Our Town... Attacked by Zombies" that was staged at my alma mater, Capital University in the fall of 2010 with minimal causalities and zero lawsuits. I have also written or co-written sixteen screenplays and pilots, with one of those scripts reviewed on industry blog Script Shadow. Thanks to the positive exposure, I am now also dipping my toes into the very industry I've been obsessed over since I was yea-high to whatever people are yea-high to in comparisons.

Posted on March 6, 2005, in 2005 Movies and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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