The Jacket Review
Thought-provoking, sedately-paced psychological thrillers have definitely had something of a resurgence in recent years, a pleasing counter to the mass of dull remakes and PG13-rated slashers that invariably end up occupying the multiplexes over the summer months. The Jacket, while marketed as a horror movie, turns out to be an intriguingly reflective piece of work that, while failing to stand up to close scrutiny and being so languidly-paced that at times it almost seems like it's not worth the hassle, is held together by assured performances from its talented cast and a script that focuses on building up audience investment in its characters rather than resorting to cheap tricks.
1992. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody), a decorated but neglected Gulf War veteran, is aimlessly hitchhiking after returning home to the US, where he is unlucky enough to hitch a lift with a psychopath who proceeds to frame him for the murder of a police officer. Not helping his case is the fact that Jack can remember nothing of the events leading up to the officer's death, and as a result finds himself certified as pyschopathic and committed to an asylum for the violently insane. The asylum's supervisor, Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), is in the process of trying out a controversial method of correction therapy, which involves strapping patients in strait-jackets and locking them in morgue drawers overnight. On one such occasion, Jack passes out and wakes up in the year 2007, with the world around him having aged while he himself remains the same. His future alter ego hooks up with Jackie Price (Keira Knightley), a waitress who he met, as a young girl, shortly before he was framed for murder in 1992. Each time Jack is placed in the jacket, he wakes up in the future, and over the course of these visits, he and Jackie attempt to piece together the clues leading up to his supposed death in the asylum.
If you can get your head round all of that, then colour me impressed. The film, to its credit, sets out all of this information more or less immediately and does a surprisingly good job of explaining it, but even so The Jacket is certainly not a film for anybody who prefers to have everything spelled out and wrapped up in a neat package. While there is no actual secret or surprise twist to explain Jack's time travelling abilities (the audience is expected to simply accept it as one of those things that just happens), some effort is required to piece together exactly what is going on in 1992 and how this relates to the situation in 2007.
Massy Tadjedin's screenplay is convoluted yet presented in a level-headed manner, but even so, the concept is far from airtight. In fact, it shares many traits with the similar The Butterfly Effect, down to the rather bizarre inconsistencies with regard to the rules applied to time travel. In both, there are moments when various events contradict each other, with regard to actions in one time zone affecting another at once point but not in another. This was perhaps unavoidable - time travel is a tricky subject at the best of times, without adding in the twist of a character who supposedly died an incarcerated man in the past being very much alive and free in the future - but it is just more proof that the concept is not completely sound and that, if you step back from it and attempt to dissect it, the whole thing promptly falls apart.
It is the performances of the cast, and the subtlety with which their characters are drawn, that give the film sincerity and prevent it from descending into farce. The whole thing hinges on the character of Jack Starks, and it is a combination of the writing and Adrien Brody's performance that make it work. The camera is on him throughout almost the entire film, and while he seems to spend its duration with the same expression on his face and his mood scarcely changing at all, there is a lot of subtlety in his performance, and Jack comes across as a believable character. The biggest surprise is Keira Knightley, who proves, possibly for the first time in her career, that she can actually act rather than just being a pretty face. She even manages to do it while sporting an extremely convincing American accent. The rest of the cast get significantly less screen-time, although Jennifer Jason Leigh impresses (as always) in the role of the sympathetic Dr. Lorenson. Kris Kristofferson, however, is shackled with a largely underwritten part that lacks significant motivation.
Although set in the US, The Jacket was actually filmed in Glasgow (coincidentally, my home town) under the supervision of British director John Maybury. Maybury, who previously helmed Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon starring Derek Jacobi, sets the scene well with a cold colour palette and glossy Scope photography. The look should be familiar to anyone who has been exposed to the various "serious" psychological thrillers of the past decade - desaturated colours, washed-out whites, a slightly grainy sheen - and to be honest this sort of appearance has been used so much that it is now essentially a cliché, but it is handled competently and at least feels appropriate to the subject matter. Less impressive is the pacing, and both it and the lack of consistency in the concept prove to be the major sources of the film's downfall. It plods along as if it has all the time in the world, and as a result it takes an eternity to actually get going. Rarely, if ever, is there any sense of mounting tension, with the plot merely cruising along until it reaches the finishing line.
The Jacket will therefore surely not appeal to those looking for an edge-of-the-seat experience, which unfortunately seems to be the audience towards which Warner have chosen to market it. Nonetheless, it is at least a reasonably satisfying piece of work with impressive performances and well-realised characters. Ultimately it shoots itself in the foot by attempting to be a thinking man's movie that fails to actually stand up to close scrutiny, but for those praying for a break from the steady diet of PG-13 slashers, The Jacket should be worth a look.
Presented anamorphically in its original 2.39:1 aspect ratio, The Jacket's transfer is just about up to scratch but suffers from a distracting amount of filtering and edge enhancement, crushing the fine detail and resulting in an image the looks flat and overly digital. There is also some very distracting ringing around edges with high contrast, such as the letterboxing at the top and bottom of the frame. This disc has exactly the same look as many of New Line's releases over the last few years, including The Lord of the Rings, which leads me to suspect that it has been subjected to the same method of image processing.
The audio, on the other hand, is excellent: a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 mix that makes good use of the various channel for some nifty directional effects and ambient noise. Much of the time, the film is heavily dialogue-based, resulting in a lot of focus being given to the front speakers, but this is perfectly appropriate to the subject matter, and the mix is very satisfying overall. A French (Québec) dub is also provided, in addition to well-placed and legible subtitles in English, French and Spanish. Sadly, no subtitles are provided for the extras.
I must also commend Warner for their well-designed and extremely sensible menu screens, which have no animation and only a simple background music score. With most DVDs produced these days featuring pointless amounts of unskippable transitions and loud, annoying loops of audio, these are a breath of fresh air.
Extras-wise, in addition to the standard Theatrical Trailer there are two features. The first and longest, at 30 minutes, is The Jacket: Project History and Deleted Scenes, a rather interesting piece that combines interviews with cast and crew members and scenes that didn't make the final cut, including extended moments featuring additional character development, a number of different iterations of the ending and a steamier love scene between Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley that the American test audiences apparently baulked at. Combining the deleted scenes with the documentary itself is a pretty controversial way to go, but in my opinion it works well because it allows them to be framed within the context of the explanations of director John Maybury and writer Massy Tadjedin. Still, I would have appreciated it if the option to view these scenes separately was also included.
Finally, the 9-minute The Look of The Jacket focuses predominantly on specific visual effects shots and the way they were created, covering Maybury's influence from avante-garde cinema. From a technical standpoint it is quite interesting, but it feels slightly trivial because most of what is explained amounts to very little running time in the final film. I would have been far more interested in a discussion of the colour timing and cinematography, which have a much greater impact on the film itself than a handful of effects shots that fly by in a few seconds.
The Jacket is the sort of film that cries out for a commentary or some sort of in-depth analysis of its meaning, and the fact that the extras fail to go beyond these two featurettes is quite disappointing. Still, compared to the 10-minute EPK affairs that can be found on most modern releases, I appreciated the sensible and frank approach taken on this disc (in particular, it was interesting to hear Maybury mentioning that he didn't actually want Keira Knightley for the role of Jackie, and that America's increasingly puritanical outlook disturbs him).
The Jacket is no masterpiece, but it is a well-made film with an excellent cast, presented on a DVD that is a bit of a let-down in terms of video, but features a great audio track and some interesting (if limited) extras.