Film — The Jacket (R)

The Jacket (R)


by Amy Diaz

Adrien Brody goes all Billy Pilgrim (except without the literary substance or the political message) in the story of a mental patient who finds himself trying to solve his own death in The Jacket.

Actually, I suppose what The Jacket really wants to be is not Slaughterhouse-Five but something a little more like Memento — it wants us to go “oh, I get it, wow” as the final scene fades to white and we at last get a glimpse of the whole picture. That’s what it wants. What it gets is more like a “huh, OK.”

Jack Starks (Brody) is somewhere in the night-vision-green Iraqi/Kuwaiti desert when, during the first Gulf war, he is shot in the back of the head by a small boy. Declared dead, Jack is discovered to be alive — though perhaps not as entirely alive as before. The big honking head wound has left him with equally large holes in his memory, both of the past and the present. After a stay in a military hospital, we see Jack hitchhiking on the snowy roads of Vermont. Before he finds a ride, he passes a broken-down truck and a boozy woman vomiting in the snow while her young daughter looks on worriedly. Jack fixes the truck and gives the little girl his dog tags before the mother comes to enough to yell him away.

Perhaps Jack seems lucky to have escaped a ride with the drunkest little barfly in the Green Mountain State. But the next driver who comes along is even more screwed up. He offers Jack a ride but then proceeds to shoot a police officer. Jack passes out and wakes up just in time to be found with a gun, a dead cop and a not-guilty-by-reason-of-insanity conviction that lands him in a hospital for the criminally insane.

Once there, Jack undergoes an alarming treatment wherein he is shot full of drugs, bundled into an extremely unpleasant full-body straight jacket and left to, I don’t know, think about what he’s done in the sensory deprived environment of a morgue drawer. The drugs and the freakiness of his confined space allow him to see flashes of the past but also drop him off in what he comes to realize is the future, where he meets the surly young waitress Jackie (Keira Knightly). While in the future he learns two things: that he is about to die only a few days from when he first entered the drawer and that British actresses who have garnered some fame will still do a few topless scenes to help spice up a movie.

Of course, once you start the whole time-travel mishagash, you bring up questions that all but the very best movies never quite answer. Questions about how changing the course of one event affects other events and how, at some point, shouldn’t the future that Jack keeps visiting start to change around him, thus making it harder to change the past. Maresydotes-and-doseydotes — unless you’re dealing with Doc Brown and a Delorean don’t think too hard about the future/past thing because it will almost never make sense.

And there’s plenty in The Jacket that doesn’t make a lot of sense. Plenty of loose ends and red herrings. Jack interacts with two doctors — the craggy old one who puts him in the jacket (Kris Kristofferson) and the young doctor who disagrees with those treatments (Jennifer Jason Leigh). Both end up being far less important than you think they’re going to be, just as early hints of themes about war and mental health also turn out to be no more than early distractions that quickly vanish.

The Jacket isn’t good but is entertaining enough and surprisingly attention-holding. Adrien Brody seems to have nobly decided to ignore the fact that his movie isn’t all that good and turn in a top-tier performance anyway. Likewise, Knightly, whose character starts off as a stay-in-school-kids-type public service message, actually kind of grows on you. And, about halfway through the film, you realize that, holes and all, hey, this ain’t so bad.

- Amy Diaz

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