The Jacket (2005)

The JacketDirected by: John Maybury

Written by: Massy Tadjedin, Tom Bleecker & Marc Rocco; Loosely Based on “The Star Rover” by Jack London

Setting: Vermont

Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) has recovered from a bullet wound to the head, but he suffers from periods of amnesia.

After returning to Vermont, he finds himself walking beside the highway on a frigid winter day. He helps an intoxicated woman and her young daughter who have been stranded with a broken-down truck. He feels an instant rapport with the little girl and gives her his dog tags.

Then Jack accepts a ride from a friendly stranger, and things take a tragic turn. He is accused of a murder he didn’t commit, but he can’t remember what happened. He is found not guilty by reason of insanity and committed to a mental institution. His conviction and sentence are revealed in a jerky sequence of brief scenes and images that mimics Jack’s disorientation and confusion in an interesting way.

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Jack’s psychiatrist, Dr. Thomas Becker (Kris Kristofferson), could easily give Nurse Ratched a run for her money in the sadism department. He practices a renegade form of “treatment” intended to reduce aggression in violent criminals. Jack is injected with experimental drugs, restrained in a straitjacket, and confined to a drawer in a morgue for hours at a time. I am pretty sure these interventions aren’t approved by the American Psychiatric Association, or — for that matter — by the Geneva Convention.

While straitjacketed in the morgue drawer, Jack travels 15 years into the future. He meets a familiar stranger (Keira Knightley), and they quickly develop an intimate relationship. In the future, Jack learns that his life will end in a matter of days, and — as he jumps back and forth in time — he frantically works to prevent his death. In an interesting twist, he visits Dr. Becker in the future and finds that the doctor, burdened with guilt about his long-ago “therapeutic” activities, is a potential ally.

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I love time travel stories, and this film has an intriguing premise. It also offers engaging performances, but considering the talents of the cast, they are not as compelling as I would have expected. Adrien Brody is gaunt, weary, and in the grip of pain and despair. At moments he is totally convincing in his agony, reminding me of his brilliant work in The Pianist. However, the range of his performance is not quite what I would have expected. Where is his rage? His terror? His passion?

Despite the unusual premise, many aspects of the story feel conventional — much of it boils down to a sentimental romance. The abrupt shifts forward and backward in time, while they may be intended to mimic Jack’s confusion, weaken the narrative flow. And while the ambiguous ending lends itself to multiple interpretations — excellent fodder for discussion — it left me feeling unsatisfied.

The Jacket has many strengths, and it is worth watching. However I was ultimately frustrated because, while I often felt it was on the cusp of being a much better movie, it never fully evolved into much more than an offbeat romance.

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