A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

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.

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August 13, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , ,

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