A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 531 – The Jacket

The Jacket – August 13th, 2011

Prior to putting this movie in, I had no idea what it was about. Not a clue. I don’t know what I expected, but the funny thing is that I know I looked it up at one point and saw that it starred Adrien Brody and that got me interested. What can I say? I like Brody. But then it slipped away from me and I totally forgot what I’d read about it, which wasn’t much aside from the cast, and it was gone from my mind. There’s a book by the same title in my collection at work, and somehow I think I’d come to the conclusion that while it wasn’t an adaptation of that book, it had some vague similarity to it. Boy, was I wrong there. This isn’t even remotely a realistic fiction story about stolen clothing. What the hell was I thinking?

What this is, is a story about a man who is living slightly outside his timeline. And what that is, is a story I’m up for poking at. If one was going to poke too hard, I think the story might unravel, and in some science fiction that would be a flaw. Of course, time travel stories always have flaws. I’ve just accepted that as part and parcel of the genre. But here I don’t so much see flaws as intentional imperfections. The nature of the time travel, the mechanism by which it’s achieved, the changes made to the timeline and the eventual ending are all left to interpretation. And I’m good with that. It suits the movie just fine.

A man named Jack Starks is injured while serving in the US military in Afghanistan. He has a head wound and is thought dead until his eyes open. After returning to the US, his thoughts aren’t quite all complete. He doesn’t remember everything he thinks he should. He reacts slowly and in some cases oddly. But he’s also quite rational and self-sufficient. While walking down a road on his way somewhere he helps a little girl and her mother, whose truck has broken down. The little girl asks him questions while her mother is sick at the side of the road. He fixes the truck and they go on their way, his dog tags in the little girl’s hand as a gift. A young man picks him up later on and something happens. A police officer gets shot and Jack can’t answer the questions after. He can’t explain and he can’t give names and so he’s convicted and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane. And I would say that this is where the movie starts, except it started with that head wound in Afghanistan and it started again with the little girl and her mother.

The hospital is where the time travel takes place, but I would say it’s up to the viewer to decide if it actually happens or if it’s something slightly different or if it’s a series of lucky guesses on Jack’s part as he brings information back from the future. Personally, I side with actual time travel, but I don’t much care what the mechanism for it is. That’s the part I’m not bothering to poke too hard. The point is that through experimental and frankly illegal treatment, Jack finds a way to access a future version of his own timeline. He pulls himself into the future by several years, except it’s a future where he died years before. He meets people he knew: Doctors from the hospital, the little girl who’s now all grown up. And each time he’s treated, he learns more and does more and puts more together. And each time he comes back he’s more desperate to figure it all out before he dies.

Now, where it gets really interesting for me is the changing of the future. Just by his presence alone Jack makes the future a different one than it would otherwise have been. He’s not supposed to be there, but there he is, the same age he was at the time he supposedly died, healthy and whole and far more clear-headed than he is in the hospital, pumped full of drugs. So he’s able to affect the future, and in doing so he gains what he needs to change things in the past. And when the inevitable happens and he finds himself dying (again) his efforts pay off.

How does it all work? Why does he end up where he ends up? Was it real? What happened to him in the past? Did he really die? Did he die again? And again? Those are all questions the movie doesn’t really concern itself with. They aren’t the important part of the movie. The important part of the movie is that Jack has this opportunity to change not only the life he’ll eventually lead, but the lives of other people. And he does it by learning about those people and finding out what they need. What’s apparent through the course of the movie is that Jack is intrinsically a good person. He just wants to help the people around him. Even when he’s making a bit of mischief, which he does in the hospital and I don’t blame him one bit, he makes it in order to cheer up a fellow patient. And the things he changes for the girl he met and the woman he meets later on are things he didn’t have to change. It wouldn’t have made her less inclined to help him later on since she’d already helped him. But he does help her and he helps her mother and in doing so everything changes.

I thoroughly enjoyed this movie in a way I hadn’t expected when we put it in. I think it’s safe to say I wasn’t expecting much of anything when we put it in, let alone a movie I found interesting and entertaining. The cast was fascinating, with Jennifer Jason Leigh and Kris Kristofferson as doctors at the hospital (Stephen Mackintosh too – he keeps popping up where I don’t expect him), Daniel Craig almost unrecognizable as another patient and Kiera Knightly as the grown up girl. Every one of them gave an excellent performance that only served to make Adrien Brody’s Jack a more solid character in a bizarre situation that none of them can explain. It feels like it should be a complicated movie, what with the time line changes and all, but it didn’t feel complicated to me. I didn’t have a hard time following it. I didn’t need to make any diagrams to keep track of it. Yes, it has unanswered questions, but you can answer them yourself, or leave them be, which is what I plan on doing. The movie is fine regardless.

August 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

The Jacket

August 13, 2011

The Jacket

I had been somewhat reluctant to watch this. Reluctant because although I had some vague notion of the plot from repeated viewings of the preview I wasn’t sure how it was as a movie. It’s always a risk when you buy a movie based only on the previews, and especially so when it is such a strange and unsettling preview. I’m glad I picked it up, though, because the movie turned out to be one of those unexpected delights we’ve discovered in our collection from time to time.

In many ways this movie reminds me of one of my favorite films of all time: Twelve Monkeys. It also deals with issues of insanity and time travel. This movie also involves a hero who is moving between times and who appears crazy to those he interacts with because of it. Unlike James Cole, however, Jack Starks is moving forward in time, so he knows how things are going to end up – he just doesn’t know how they get there.

I’m getting ahead of myself though. At the start of this movie Jack isn’t traveling through time. He’s dying from a gunshot wound to the head. He’s a soldier in the first Gulf War who is discharged after being so gravely wounded that the doctors assumed that he was dead. His memory is badly damaged, however and he begins to lose his grip on time and reality. Then he runs into trouble. One winter afternoon as he is hitchhiking in the woods he comes across a young girl and her drunken mother who are stranded because their truck won’t start. He is able to get the truck running, and forms a kind of friendship with the young girl, but the mother shoos him off. Instead of getting a ride with them he gets a ride with a shifty individual driving towards Canada. Very soon he and his new companion are pulled over by the police and then… something happens. What exactly is not immediately clear, but Jack is in very short order convicted of the killing of that unfortunate police officer and sentenced to be treated in a mental hospital for his amnesia and post traumatic stress. He has only very vague recollections of that night and the woman and her daughter seem to have vanished.

That’s the set-up. The meat of the movie is a sort of mystery. There’s a fairly less-than-ethical doctor working in the asylum who has been using unorthodox treatments on some of the patients. Dr. Becker is dragging his subjects out of bed in the middle of the night, shooting them full of drugs, putting them in a heavy straight-jacket and locking them in a morgue drawer. He seems to think that this will help to break down mental barriers in his patients. And he’s a bit of a control freak and sadist as well. When Jack is in the jacket however he somehow escapes.

At first it’s not clear in the movie if he enters a dream or if it’s a flashback or a lost memory, but Jack finds himself waiting outside a diner. A young woman comes out and, as a Christmas Eve act of charity offers him a lift. He has no particular place to go, and the woman Jackie is clearly lonely and somewhat unhinged herself, so he ends up at her apartment. He attempts to make friends with her, and things seem to be going well until he makes an unnerving discovery: a pair of dog tags with his own name on them in Jackie’s apartment. Dog tags that he had given to the girl in the woods before the events that landed him in the hospital.

When he confronts Jackie about the dog tags he discovers that she actually is that girl, that he is somehow fifteen years in the future, and that he, Jack Starks, died almost fifteen years ago just after New Years. So now he has to somehow convince Jackie that he actually is that man from her childhood who gave her the dog tags, and he needs to find out how he is going to have died.

Soon Jack finds himself back in the mental hospital. His whole time with Jackie might only have been a delusion or a dream, but he now believes that he’s going to die in just a few days and he needs to get back into the future to find out how – and the only way to do that is to get back in the jacket. Each time Dr. Becker inflicts his treatment on Jack he discovers a little more about his future and about Jackie and her mother and what happens to other people in the asylum. Slowly he comes to accept that his strange trips are real visions of the future and he desperately tries to find a way to alter what is going to happen, even as most everyone around him becomes more and more convinced of his insanity.

What makes this movie exceptional is the high level of the acting and direction. Adrien Brody as Jack was part of the reason I bought the movie in the first place. He’s such a fantastic actor and I was curious to see what he had lent his talents to here. What I had not expected was the high caliber of the entire cast. Particularly note-worthy are Daniel Craig as one of the inmates – he has completely transformed himself with all the nervous twitches and desperate looks from the familiar steely action hero I’m more used to seeing him portray. Dr. Becker is played by Kris Kristofferson with a mad passion in the scenes involving him in the hospital and with a quiet despair when jack meets him in the future. And, oh, what an amazing actress Keira Knightly has proven herself to be. As Jackie she’s quiet, desperate, and broken. She’s so effortlessly able to create this entire character from just a few furtive glances at Jack.

The direction by John Maybury and stellar editing by Emma E. Hickox take these amazing performances and this great tension filled story and make it all into a strange kind of dream. We as viewers are drawn into the story by a sense of disorientation akin to that which Jack himself is feeling. Everything initially feels very disjointed and out of sync. In the same way that Jack questions his own sanity we have to question what exactly is going on. As the movie progresses Jack slowly becomes less catatonic, jolted into action by his impending demise and as he starts to take action the film slowly becomes more coherent and less fragmented.

I was so pleasantly surprised as we watched this. I hadn’t known what to expect and what I got was a treat. A supernatural thriller involving time travel and insanity. A story about broken people taking control of their own lives. An unexpected core of tenderness underneath all the angst. I had braced myself for something rough and confusing, but what I got was a polished gem of a movie that perfectly pushed every one of my buttons.

August 13, 2011 Posted by | daily reviews | , , | Leave a comment