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Dustin Putman

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The Jacket (2005)
2 Stars

Directed by John Maybury
Cast: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Laura Marano, Brad Renfro, Daniel Craig, Jason Lewis, Mackenzie Phillips
2005 – 102 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for violence, language, and brief sexuality/nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, March 3, 2005.

Had "The Jacket" been made a decade or two ago, audiences would likely have been swept away in its boldly audacious premise and out-of-chronological-order narrative. In the year 2005, the film, a murky mystery directed by John Maybury, comes off as not only derivative of countless recent films, but also inferior to most of them. Without putting much thought into a list at all, "The Jacket" heavily recalls 2004's "The Butterfly Effect," 2003's "Gothika," 2001's "Donnie Darko," 2000's "Eye of the Beholder," and 1999's "The Thirteenth Floor." However compelling the picture occasionally is—it doesn't command attention as strongly or as emotionally as it intends, but isn't a snooze-fest, either—there is precious little that could be called original.

Twelve months after a near-death experience while serving in the Gulf War in 1991, Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) has recuperated nicely and made his way back to the U.S. Following an uneasy run-in on a lonely country road with a drunk woman named Jean (Kelly Lynch) and her sweet young daughter, Jackie (Laura Marano), Jack finally manages to hitch a ride with a stranger (Brad Renfro). The police pull over the car, there is gunfire, and Jack is left with no memory at all of the incident. Charged with the officer's murder, he is promptly judged to be criminally insane and is shipped off to Alpine Grove Mental Hospital. There, Jack, who knows he's not crazy, is subjected to Dr. Becker's (Kris Kristofferson) unorthodox methods of treatment. Once strapped in a strait-jacket and stuffed in a morgue drawer, Jack suddenly finds himself transported fifteen years to 2007, reuniting with a boozy grown-up Jackie (Keira Knightley) who has become a sad mirror-image of her troubled mother and faced with the frightening destiny of both already being dead and days away from said mysterious death on January 1, 1993.

The sad truth is that screenwriter Massy Tadjedin and director John Maybury have designed and put to film a story that just isn't very fresh or creative. Adding insult to injury, a meticulous project that hinges on being a mind-bender demands these very things. Tadjedin plays around with time-traveling and alternate realities, but fails to buoy them to their loftiest potential. In fact, the ideas on display in "The Jacket" are threadbare—why, for example, is Jack able to go into the future by way of a jacket?—and routine for the genre—"The Butterfly Effect" has the same basic story, but more dimension, style, and heart.

The hospital scenes, set in 1992, are more akin to what an asylum might have been like in the 1950s. The doctors and nurses, particularly Dr. Becker and Nurse Harding (Mackenzie Phillips), act suspicious and perform their duties in possibly criminal ways, complete with cruel, radical treatments that seem to do more harm than good for their patients. Electroshock therapy also plays a part in the story, but is left unexplored. The hospital is portrayed as a grimy and run-down place, the stuff nightmares are made of. It is all the more curious, then, that "The Jacket" never manages to be creepy or all that unsettling. For the most part, the pacing is slow and disorganized.

The love story that culminates from Jack and Jackie's meeting for the first time in fifteen years shows some potential because Adrien Brody (2004's "The Village") and Keira Knightley (2003's "Love Actually") are a well-suited match. Ultimately, as they investigate what is going on and the particulars behind Jack's approaching death in his past existence, the romance is introduced too abruptly to have the desired effect. Their scenes together are few and far between, mostly of the all-business variety, and so the story's romantic angle pops out as a plot requirement rather than a natural evolution between two people in love. Nevertheless, Knightley does wonders with a thin role, bringing character shadings and an aura of vulnerable regret to a person who has not been fully thought out on the written page. As the sympathetic Dr. Lorenson, who butts heads with Becker's approach to Jack's therapy as she slowly realizes Jack may be more mentally stable that she thought, the underrated Jennifer Jason Leigh (2004's "The Machinist") is quite good in a rare professional part that doesn't have the actress playing a prostitute.

The final scenes of "The Jacket" are mildly effective and subtly handled, as Jack takes it upon himself to right the wrongs of Jackie's life trajectory before it is too late, but not the powerhouse they want to be. Unfortunately, the ambitions of the film are again diffused by a nagging sensation that we've seen it all before, and done with a surer hand. This is the downfall of "The Jacket," a motion picture without the required thrills to be a horror movie, without the astuteness to work as a mystery, without the depth to be emotionally substantial as a love story, and without the imagination to be more than a distaff version of other like-minded movies.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman