The Jacket is a terrific exercise in energy, storytelling, and exploring the supernatural. For those viewers who are patient, there is nary a dull moment in this puzzler that successfully meshes elements from all different genres. The outcome is a visceral aural experience coupled with a premise and denouement that will have you thinking for days and re-examining your own existence.
As the film opens, Jack Starks (Brody) is carrying out military orders during the Persian Gulf War in 1991. As he tries to help an Iraqi boy to safety, the boy unexpectedly pulls a gun on him and shoots him in the head, leaving him to bleed to death on the sandy ground. By the time the medics get him to safety, Starks appears dead. But then, he blinks. This was the “first time I died,” according to Starks.
Six months later Jack is hitchhiking along a snowy Vermont road when he happens upon Jean (Lynch), the severely drunken mother of young Jackie. The pair’s truck died on them, and Jack kindly helps them get it started. The two drive off, leading Jack to fend for himself without so much as a “thank you.”
Moments later a man driving a station wagon appears and offers Jack a lift to the Canadian border. Jack accepts, but the two soon find themselves in danger when the driver shoots a cop dead in his tracks. Jack takes a bullet, and the mysterious driver plants the gun next to Jack, making it look as though he committed the crime, and takes off.
Jack soon finds himself in court for the murder of the police officer, but is found innocent but sentenced to do time at the Alpine Grove Psychiatric Hospital. There, the malicious Dr. Becker (Kristofferson) and his associates (including Dr. Lorenson, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) subject Starks to hours on end inside a morgue drawer cocooned in a straight jacket. This is where the story really begins.
Whenever Jack is in the claustrophobic confinement of the drawer while wearing the jacket he is transported to 2007, where he meets Jackie (Knightley), a drunken waitress whom we quickly learn is the same little girl who he helped on the Vermont road. Jackie tells him that he is already dead in 2007, and has been for fourteen years! Now Jack must unravel the mystery to his own death in 2007 to prevent it in 1993.
Believe it or not, I have only scratched the surface of this story. There are so many underlying themes and elements in The Jacket that many will not catch them all in the first viewing. This is a film about life, love (Jack and Jackie strike up a romantic relationship), and the supernatural that we hardly ever find ourselves thinking about. The ending to this film is so satisfying and appropriate that you, the viewer, know you’ve been on the same page as the filmmakers all along.
The performances are all spot on. Adrien Brody is perfectly cast as a quiet, humble man who knows that he is not insane, but cannot help but believe that he has a life to live in 2007. Brody’s facial expressions add so much to the character, especially considering nearly every word he speaks is in a soft whisper. Keira Knightley makes a fabulous dramatic turn as the highly troubled Jackie, a woman who at first strongly believes that Jack is an impostor in her life. Her character has so many nuances and quirks, and Knightley pulls off the role beautifully. Kris Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh are also effective as two doctors who may not completely know the consequences of their actions. When Jack meets them in 2007, the scenes have an undeniable chill that heightens the film’s intensity.
Director John Maybury gives us some splendid camera work. The claustrophobic feeling of the morgue drawer is captured brilliantly, as oftentimes all we hear are Jack’s eyes blinking. Many will feel that Maybury elected to use far too strong of an aural experience for the movie (many scenes border on sensory overload in terms of audible noise), but I feel this adds to the experience. We are witnessing what is going on in Jack’s mind, and it isn’t pretty at first. Screenwriter Massy Tadjedin clearly has a firm grasp on the story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco. A fantastic job is done of making sense of this complex psychological story.
The Jacket, by its very essence, is a film that is bound to divide those who see it. I think the film is being mis-marketed as a horror film of sorts, when in fact the core story is about life, death, and what people in our lives can mean to us. This is a multi-faceted film that may not play well to everyone, but for those who are patient, the payoff is one that you won’t soon forget.
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
Length: 102 Minutes
Rating: R for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity.
Theatrical Release: March 4, 2005
Directed by: John Maybury
Written by: Massy Tadjedin. Based upon the story by Tom Bleecker & Marc Rocco.
Cast: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Brad Renfro