The Jacket Review

Oscar winner Adrien Brody plays an innocent man committed to a psychiatric institute in this supernatural drama. Forced to undergo strange experiments inside, he unlocks an ability to will himself forward in time. The cast also includes Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh and Daniel Craig. Review by Kevin O’Reilly.

The Jacket is an intriguing psychological thriller that works beautifully while you’re watching it and then promptly falls to pieces when you think back over it afterwards. It’s a film based on a gimmick better suited to a thirty-minute Twilight Zone episode and it raises more questions about its plot than any film I’ve seen recently. It’s so well made and acted that I recommend you see it anyway but then quickly turn your mind to other matters.

Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is a Gulf War veteran who’s survived being shot in the head during the fighting in Kuwait. The following year – 1992 – he’s hitchhiking aimlessly across America when he’s unfortunate enough to be picked up by a psychopath and he ends up framed for the murder of a policeman. His head injuries help convict him (he can’t remember what happened) and they also ensure he’s sent to a psychiatric institute rather than a prison. This particular institute is run by the unscrupulous Dr Becker (Kris Kristofferson), who is performing illegal sensory deprivation experiments on his patients.

These experiments involve drugging the patient and locking him in a dark, claustrophobic morgue drawer. The intention is to reprogram his behaviour patterns and remove his propensity for violence. The effect on Starks however is something quite unexpected: when he’s injected with Becker’s serum and shut in the drawer, he passes out and wakes up in 2007. He’s still in his 1992 body but the world has advanced 15 years. In his disorientation, Starks is picked up by a young waitress called Jackie (Keira Knightley) who he discovers is someone he met when she was a little girl shortly before his arrest for murder. Back in the present, Starks is unable to convince his doctors of what is happening to him so he makes repeated trips forward to the future and, with Jackie’s help, tries to piece together in 2007 what’s going on at the institute in 1992.

How is Starks travelling through time? I was expecting the film to end with a Big Revelation – an explanation for its hero’s ability that would redefine everything we’d seen before. There have been a lot of films lately hinging on Big Revelations. My guess was the ending would be like that of Jacob’s Ladder, a film with which The Jacket shares many similarities, including the war veteran angle and the psychiatric experiments. In fact there is no Big Revelation. The film lays all its cards on the table surprisingly early and no explanation is ever offered for the time travel phenomenon. We’re just supposed to accept it, as we did Ashton Kutcher’s time-jumping in The Butterfly Effect – another film with which The Jacket shares similarities.

I suppose we should be grateful to be spared another contrived plot twist. The Jacket’s ending is one of its strengths. It goes off on a tangent that is unexpected and quite moving and belies the studio’s desperate attempts to paint it as a horror film. I can understand their dilemma over how to sell it but horror it definitely ain’t. One gripe about the final scenes: I don’t think the screenwriter’s decision to take Starks’ relationship with Jackie into the bedroom adds anything other than a slight feeling of queasiness to an otherwise moving climax. You’ll see what I mean.

The film’s lack of an explanation and its matter-of-fact treatment of the time travel gimmick do raise problems in retrospect. There are plot holes and paradoxes here that would give Dr Emmett Brown a migraine. At one point, Starks learns something in 2007 from an older version of one of his doctors. He then returns to his own time where he tells the doctor the same thing that he will later learn from them. The doctor apparently learned this from Starks yet Starks learned it from the doctor. Got the paracetemol out yet? The film’s central plot point – what Starks learns about his destiny – is a major weakness. The way it plays out is dealt with poorly: what happens to Starks in the end is so banal and anticlimactic, it nearly wrecks the atmosphere. There are also some red herrings which appear to hint at the twist that the film sidesteps, like the Gulf flashbacks and the unnecessary details of a former patient’s history.

The Jacket’s storyline can’t withstand much probing. Still, it does work in the moment, thanks to the edgy style provided by British director John Maybury, who made Love Is The Devil, and to the film’s top-drawer acting talent. As Starks, Adrien Brody is excellent, commanding our total sympathy in a very difficult role. If we couldn’t care about him, everything else would be for nought. Keira Knightley also does very strong work, putting on a credible American accent and matching Brody in their scenes together. Knightley’s been a pretty face in a number of films but here she proves she can act. There are some very impressive supporting performances too by Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch and Daniel Craig.

Sadly Kris Kristofferson, one of my favourite character actors, is unable to overcome a poorly written role. Dr Becker is portrayed at times as human and even idealistic, yet only a complete madman could carry out the experiments he does with the knowledge he has of their dangers. For that matter, only total idiots would risk their careers and violate their oaths by assisting him and yet we’re asked to believe that psychiatrists as decent as Dr Sorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) go along with him. You see what I mean about not thinking about this film too much.

Kevin O'Reilly

Updated: May 15, 2005

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