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The Jacket

2006-03-30 13:11


The film centres on Jack Starks, a military veteran who returns to his native Vermont suffering from bouts of amnesia. When he is accused of the murder of an ex con he is declared criminally insane, and lands up in a mental asylum.Although he's certain of his innocence - and his sanity - he has no way to prove it.

An unethical doctor (Kris Kristofferson) puts him on a heavy course of experimental drugs, restrains him in a dirty straightjacket, and locks him away in a body drawer in the asylum's morgue.

The "treatment" sends Jack on a journey four days into the future, where he can foresee his death, but not how he dies.. Now the question is: can the woman he meets in the future (Keira Knightley) save both of them by helping him figure out what happens?


Let's just get one thing straight: the premise of this film is very hard to take seriously. It's packed with coincidences and wild leaps of logic, as well as similarly wild leaps through space and time. It could also be accused of exploiting a serious topic - the effect of war trauma - as a gambit for a psychological thriller whose plot echoes Jacobs Ladder, Silence of the Lambs and The Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

Right in the beginning, Jack Starks is shot, but comes back to life with amnesia and is released by the uncaring military. Confused and lost, he wanders around in the snow in Vermont. A little girl who he helps (look out for the continuity error involving a car door in this scene) grows up to be Jackie Price, who he later meets in the future after he's able to teleport there when Dr Thomas Becker (Kris Kristofferson) tries out his unethical treatment methods...

So it's a bit of a stretch - sure - but for the most part this is an entertaining film and you'll find yourself willing to go with it.

Luckily, Adrien Brodey plays Jack Starks with a visceral, attractive kind of erotic gloom that makes you care about whether he lives or dies (or dies again, or comes back to life, or something) even though the plot line is so implausible that whoever wrote it would be locked up in a loony bin if it wasn't "just a movie".

Even more luckily, the astoundingly beautiful Keira Knightley plays the damaged but compulsively kind Jackie Price with commitment that hides the essentially cliched character she's been given to work with (Gasp! Poor Jackie's so miserable she even smokes cigarettes and drinks alcohol!) And much of the film is worth watching just to see her walking around while opening and closing her lips. Unfortunately, the pretty decent sex scenes were apparently toned down to meet test audience demands.

The cinematography is beautiful, with the stark, snowy landscapes of Vermont's cities and countryside standing in cold contrast to the thawing refuge that people discover in each other's kindness and love. This imagery works beautifully to create and sustain the sad atmosphere of the film.

But tragically, the biggest moment of sadness this film has isn't intentional. The saddest moment is the moment when you realise you're being forced to watch a happy ending, and one that is tacked on so sloppily that it completely fails to dispel the feeling of unease that the film expended so much effort creating.

The ending is such a bad match to the entire plotline that it's actually disorienting. . One minute you're in tragedy mode, and the next you're meant to be happy, but you're just... not. Sure, it all turned out ok, but it makes no sense.

After accepting jumps through time, space and impossibilities in medical science, you'd think you'd accept anything. But the failure of the ending proves just how much consistency matters in film.

No matter how impossible a storyline may be, if it's consistently impossible, you'll believe what you're seeing. But the twee little about turn that concludes the film is essentially a clumsy but complete genre transition - from psychological thriller, to a sci-fi made-for-TV miniseries wind up. It's about as believable as Jack waking up in bed at the end and saying to Jackie: "Honey, I just had the most terrible dream!"

The verdict? The Jacket is an entertaining, depressing, unsettling, nearly brilliant but tragically unsatisfying near-hit. See it but just don't expect too much of it.

- Jean Barker

The tension between a dubious premise and hot acting by Adrien Brody and Kiera Knightly makes for a maddening but entertaining thriller.

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