Jacket, The (United States/United Kingdom, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

A well-known saying goes something like, "In for a penny, in for a pound," and that seems to be an appropriate way to begin a discussion of John Maybury's The Jacket. A moody psychological thriller tinged with science fiction elements, The Jacket demands not only a viewer's attention, but his or her belief. Unless you accept the premise, completely and unconditionally, this movie will come across as a load of silly, incoherent rubbish. While not as far out on the limb of paradoxes as films like Jacob's Ladder and The Butterfly Effect, The Jacket nevertheless has the capacity to provoke thought and consternation.

I'm not going to argue that this is an error-free motion picture. It has plenty of problems, beginning with a screenplay that could have used another pass through the polishing process. But I appreciate the way the story is developed, taking audiences into The Twilight Zone, but not leaving them stranded there. The Jacket toys with time travel in a way that shouldn't confuse too many viewers, and it addresses the often discussed paradox of how an action in the past can wipe out an infinity of possible futures. And, while Maybury's style is a little too artsy for this kind of film, he nevertheless develops a gloomy, ominous atmosphere which seems perfect for a slow-burn production of this nature.

The Jacket opens in 1991 Iraq, with the Gulf War in full swing. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) gets the back of his head blown open when he lets down his guard. He is initially left for dead - in fact, his voiceover informs us, "I was 27 the first time I died" - but doctors soon realize their mistake. A year later, he is physically healed, but his memory is riddled with holes. One winter afternoon while wandering along a lonely road in Vermont, he encounters a little girl and her mother. Their car has broken down. After lending assistance, he hitchhikes a ride from another driver. This is a mistake - it results in Jack becoming involved in a shooting, and ending up confined to the Alpine Grove Psychiatric Hospital for the criminally insane. He has entered the cuckoo's nest.

A maverick doctor, Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), begins experimenting on Jack, confining him in a straightjacket and trapping him inside a morgue drawer. The intent of the experiment: to "reset his violent proclivities." The justification: "You can't break something that's already broken." The result: somehow (the "whys" and "wherefores" are thankfully left unexplained), Jack travels through time to 2007, 15 years in the future. There, he encounters the future version of Jackie (Keira Knightley), the girl he rescued by the roadside all those years ago. Not only does he begin a romance with Jackie, but he embarks upon a desperate quest to save his own life. According to 2007 news reports, he died on January 1, 1993.

The Jacket contains plenty of little quirks and mysteries, but no big M. Night Shyamalan plot contortion. That's fine with me, since major twists often damage the integrity of a story. The film contains some suspense, but there's not much action to go along with it. The Jacket relies more on contemplation than testosterone. The film's goal is to encourage us to contemplate the reality of Jack's world, whether the trips to the future are actually happening, and whether he has the capacity to change time. It's the old argument: predestination vs. free will. Maybury litters the movie with red herrings (such as the green beads that more than one character fondles) in order to vary the number of possible interpretations.

Although neither lead actor was the director's first choice, both acquit themselves admirably. Keira Knightley is a little more robust than Adrien Brody, but he can be excused because Jack spends about half of the movie heavily sedated. Although their romance is rushed (a contrivance made necessary by the constricted amount of time they have together), chemistry is evident in their interaction. Kris Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh have supporting roles as doctors at the Alpine Grove hospital, and Kelly Lynch is Jackie's mother.

This movie probably falls within the purview of a "love it/hate it" subgenre of the psychological thriller. It's a purely speculative kind of fable that deals more in paradoxes, philosophy, and conjecture than in logic or science. It's also slow moving, which is appropriate for a thought-piece. Ultimately, The Jacket plays things straight, and is more straightforward than it might initially seem to be. The time lines may not be linear, but the storyline is.

Jacket, The (United States/United Kingdom, 2005)

Director: John Maybury
Cast: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch
Screenplay: Massy Tadjedin
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Music: Brian Eno
U.S. Distributor: Warner Independent
Run Time: 1:42
U.S. Release Date: 2005-03-04
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Situations)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1