The Jacket

The Jacket is a tall tale, of time travel, hallucinations, amnesia and love. It is cast as a blockbuster and produced like an indie. This and other discrepancies make the movie seem as if it is stuck in an identity crisis. A paradox of extremes that seems to taint everything from the story to the acting.

The trailer for the movie is surprisingly complete in describing the story. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is a veteran of the first Gulf war, who returns to the US after being shot and miraculously surviving. Hitchhiking in Vermont, he is picked up by a local, but in his amnesiac haze finds himself accused of murdering a cop. After being found not guilty for reason of insanity, he is locked up in a psychiatric institution, where he is exposed to brutal alternate therapy by Dr. Thomas Becker (Kris Kristofferson), who pumps him full of drugs, straps him in a straitjacket and shuts him for extended periods into morgue drawer.

In the course of this "therapy" Jack finds himself hallucinating and seeing things that should not be. He repeatedly interacts with a girl Jackie Price (Keira Knightley) and her mother, whom he had helped prior to hitchhiking. Very soon his reality neatly spans across time and he finds himself capable of helping others even as his own death looms large.

Brody and Knightley are brilliant, because of who they are and not because of their roles. Their individual intensity is lost in their characters who are little more than the clich├ęd troubled minds. The pair lack chemistry. The rest of the characters flit in and out of the narrative, appearing more like signposts or riddles than as three dimensional characters that have a connection between them. Maybe it is brilliantly metaphorical, as a representation of life in a psychiatric unit. Or maybe it was just a flat assembly for the purpose of telling the story.

That said there are several moments of brilliance that made this movie such a cult hit. The cinematography and screenplay are alive and engaging. The story on screen has a dreamy quality that juxtaposes well with the tense characters. The psychiatric unit has pieces of narrative that are reminiscent of One flew over the Cuckoo's nest, without the depth of the latter.

While The Jacket is a well produced mainstream sci-fi thriller, it misses the inventiveness of Being John Malkovich and isn't quite a nerdy extravaganza either. It is a well made middle of the road thriller, that does well to engage and narrate. As long as you do not have too high expectations, and do not really care why the movie is named as such, you could do worse with 103 minutes of your life.

March 15, 2011

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