January 14, 2013

The Jacket Review (John Maybury)

Adrien Brody is locked up with The Jacket.

I'm So Confused Marathon: The Jacket

Jack London's 1915 novel The Star Rover depicts a torture device called "the jacket" used on inmates at San Quentin State Prison. The lead character puts himself in a trance and experiences past lives. This story provides the thin foundation for the latest entry in this marathon. Writer Massy Tadjedin (Last Night) takes that premise and shifts it to modern times. The Jacket was disregarded by critics, but I'm intrigued by the ideas. Similar to Jacob's Ladder, we spend much of the time questioning whether the experiences are actually happening. Are they the delusions of a madman?

Falling somewhere between the time-travel, insane asylum, and romance sub-genres, this movie isn't easy to describe. Also, the plot takes a back seat to emotions. The question is whether the strands come together to deliver a compelling final product. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is a Gulf War veteran who was seriously injured by a gunshot to the head. Walking in Vermont in 1992, he gets involved in a police shooting and is committed to an insane asylum. Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson) uses Jack for his experiments at this facility that may actually send him 15 years into the future.

Keira Knightley and Adrien Brody lay in bed in The Jacket.

The challenge with The Jacket is that we don't get a clear sense of what happens. It's possible that nearly everything occurs in Jack's mind, but he doesn't appear in every scene. His Gulf War wounds appear fatal, so he may be dead and experiencing a vision right before he expires. Another possibility has Jack alive but still hallucinating to cope with horrors. Dr. Becker is putting him inside the jacket and stuffing him into a morgue drawer. That experience would be enough to drive anyone crazy, especially a guy with a head injury.

The final interpretation has Jack actually traveling to the future and meeting Jackie (Keira Knightley). This is my choice because it's the most interesting. This version doesn't have a simple explanation and introduces romance to the mix. Like Christopher Reeve in Somewhere in Time, he's traveled to another era to meet her. Jack's realization that Jackie is actually the same girl that he met on the road in 1992 is exciting. Are they destined to meet? Although the final scene provides some hints, there's no clear resolution. This ambiguity could be irritating, but I'm a lot more intrigued because of it.

The first act takes us into an insane asylum that should be familiar to movie fans. There are the usual eerie noises and messed-up individuals, and those scenes are boring. A refreshing shift happens when Jack meets Jackie in 2007. Each time the story loses steam, the jacket saves the day! The story morphs into a detective yarn with the couple digging into his past, or the future depending on the perspective. I enjoyed these elements of the time-travel genre, which escaped the confining asylum. Plot questions slipped away, and the actors feel engaged with the better material. Conversations that seem ready to give Earth-shattering revelations are oddly casual. The uneven pace meanders at times, but there's enough to keep it moving in the right direction.

Director John Maybury (The Edge of Love) does a solid job in making us care about Jack's story, despite a few unnecessary devices. The early scenes are shot more like a horror film and use rapid cuts to show the images inside his mind. It works to show the growing madness, yet it's a pretty obvious move. Because the images appear so quickly, they have a limited impact. He also strangely focuses on character's mouths with extreme close-ups at several points. These stylistic tactics call too much attention to themselves and distract us. That said, he nicely presents the emotional material once we head into the future. Maybury has spent the past few years directing episodes for The Borgias on television, so it will be interesting to see if he goes back to movies in the future.

Kris Kristofferson is a cruel doctor in The Jacket.

Maybury assembles convincing supporting actors who bring stability to a possibly silly concept. Kris Kristofferson avoids turning Becker into a typical villain and shows the burden of treating guys like Jack so poorly. This is especially true when we meet his future self. He's still a cruel guy, but it's hardly a one-note performance. Jennifer Jason Leigh feels detached as the more sensible Dr. Lorenson, but she has a good screen presence to make up for script limitations.

I've had mixed feelings about Keira Knightley over the years, and her attempts to show Jackie's self-destructive behavior aren't entirely successful. However, she is believable with Adrien Brody and shows why he'd keep returning. Jack is trying to locate details about his death, but she's the true reason. I also have to mention a nearly unrecognizable Daniel Craig, who plays the crazed Rudy Mackenzie. His early career shows the talent we now see, but it isn't clear that he was going to reach such a lofty status. The key figure is Brody, who kills the movie if we don't care about his plight. I didn't mind sticking with Jack, but I'll admit that a lot of my interest was plot-driven.

Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley in The Jacket

The Jacket isn't a movie that I plan to revisit, but that doesn't mean it's a failure. Maybury takes a solid premise and tells a good story. The reason for my limited praise is also the main source of my enjoyment. It's a somber movie with a deliberate pace that fits the material. I'm excited to explore connections across time and the role of fate in our lives. Jack tries mightily to escape death, and there's a real sense that it's futile. Even when he changes Jackie's life, we can't be sure that anything is really happening. The surprise is how a movie with the awful tagline of "terror has a new name" has so little horror. This separates it from similar material but gives it a forgettable quality. Avoiding cheap scares keeps us focused on the characters yet pushes them into routine territory.

Other Marathon Reviews

Black Swan
Jacob's Ladder


  1. This doesn't look like my cup of tea at all, Dan. I might have my eyes closed the entire movie, ahah. I'm surprised Keira Knightley is cast here, doesn't strike me as her type of roles she goes for. As for Brody, I feel like I haven't seen too many of his work, not even The Pianist (which I know I should).

    1. Ruth, the interesting part is that it's not that intense once you get past the first 30 minutes or so. It turns into sort of a romance with a time travel angle. Brody has a certain facial style of looking really sad that he used in The Pianist and in this movie. I still have mixed feelings about it, though he is talented. This was fairly early in Knightley's career, though it seems like she's been around forever. She was in King Arthur right before The Jacket, so I think she was still figuring out what she wanted to do at this point. I wouldn't say you need to rush out and see this movie. I was interested in where it went and think it was okay, but far from a must-see.

  2. Its pretty obvious that Jack is actually Ted Casey the rapist and he doesnt want to face the reality so he changes his name. Thats why he "helps" children with problems. The child who "shot" him (he wanted to help him before he shoot him), the sick one Boback which was actually the same kid with the first and finally Jackie that "changes" her life in the end. Also in his visions when he wears the jacket he sees kids.


  4. Also, to Anonymous who thinks Jack is Ted Casey: You are not smart enough to be analyzing film. You are so ridiculously off it is crazy. Shut pleeease?

  5. Sorry Joachim, but Anonymous is right. He may be a little conceited and arrogant when he says it's obvious, which i think it's not, but he's right nonetheless. You are too, when you try to impose your argument by raising your voice with caps.
    I'm not going to spoil everything for you, but i'll give you a hint: everytime you see a scene in which some character uses a checkered piece of clothing, what's happening never happened, it's not real, it's one of Ted's (or Jack's, or Mackenzie's, or Piechowski's, or Jackson MacGregor's, or the guy who shots the cop, you choose) deliriums.
    And sorry, but the iraqui boy does not exist, because Jack actually never went to war. He went to prison, tough. See it again and i'll answer your questions, if you have. I've seen it twice, the second one with more pauses than plays.
    Another hint: watch Lynch's Mulholland Drive, and Lost Highway.
    Anyone else wants to chat about the hints and details of this excellent movie?
    Cheers to all!

  6. If I were Dan, the writer of the review, I would revisit the movie... he kind of did't get it.

    1. I'm not sure it's as simple as "getting" it. You can see by the comments that different people come away from The Jacket with different feelings about what happened. I should probably revisit it again, though. My opinion may change on a second go around now.

  7. I believe everything really happened, and at the end Jack and Jackie got to spend the rest of their lives together. Before, Jack Starks was divided between two times and physically unhealthy, so that's why he was sick when he fell on the ice. He barely managed to escape to the alternate 2007 before his past self died. He got permanently stuck in the future, and now gets to spend the rest of his time with Jackie, his true love. They were destined to be together.

    My evidence? The three alternate endings that were filmed (and showed it as a dream all along) were all rejected in favor of a happy cathartic ending. And it had no aggressive flashes in the end. Just cathartic white light.
    And at the end, we hear Jackie ask how much time they had. Then the end credits song answered her question, "We Have All The Time In The World".
    Jack and Jackie will be with each other and love each other for ever. And Jean is still alive! That's a perfect ending.

    1. Max, as you can see by the various comments on this review, there isn't really a consensus on this question. It's ambiguous enough for people to be certain about completely different opinions. I probably need to watch it again to get a better gauge on what I think.

  8. Is Rudy Mackenzie and the stranger the same person!!?