The Jacket Review
By Shawn McKenzie 03/07/2005
Boy, do I love time travel movies! Except for the sub par movie Timeline, most time travel movies in the last 45 years, from 1960’s The Time Machine to last year’s The Butterfly Effect, have been so fun to watch (my personal favorite will always be 1985’s Back to the Future though.) Count The Jacket as another time travel movie that I highly enjoyed, though it does take time to understand it at first.
It’s 1991, and an American soldier named Sgt. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is on a mission in the first Gulf War in Iraq when an Iraqi boy shoots him in the head while he was trying to comfort the child. The military treats him and releases him 12 months later with a case of amnesia. After he is released, Jack drifts across the state of Vermont with no specific place to go. He comes upon a woman named Jean Price (Kelly Lynch) and her young daughter named Jackie (Laura Marano) who became stranded by the side of the road when their truck wouldn’t start. Jack can clearly see that Jean is drunk and out of it, so he has Jackie help him fix the truck. While Jack tries to get the truck started, Jackie notices and is curious about his army dog tags. He gives her the dog tags, but by that time, he fixes the truck and Jean finally acknowledges the presence of the drifter. She becomes extremely mad, thinking that he was doing Jackie harm, despite Jackie’s statement that Jack was just helping them. Jean and Jackie drive off, and Jack continues down the road. Not long after, Jack hitches a ride from a stranger (Brad Renfro) heading to Canada. A cop named Officer Harrison (Jason Lewis) stops the stranger’s car, and suddenly the cop ends up ends up dead. Jack is charged with murder, but he is found innocent due to insanity, since the trauma has caused severe memory loss (again.) They commit him to the Alpine Grove Psychiatric Hospital, where Dr. Tom Becker (Kris Kristofferson) decides to try a form of “alternative” therapy that was banned in the ‘70s. The treatment consists of having Nurse Harding (Mackenzie Phillips) administer injections of a medicine, strapping him into a straight jacket, and putting him into an empty morgue drawer slot for hours on end. The isolation understandably freaks him out, and he begins to hallucinate. He flashes back to the shooting, where it is clear that the stranger shot the cop, shot Jack, wiped off the gun, and placed it near the unconscious Jack, framing him for the murder. These treatments are upsetting for Dr. Beth Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a lower associate to Becker, and she questions his methods. She has other things on her mind though, because she has been treating from home an autistic boy named Bobeck who has been having a long-lasting seizure. During his second treatment, Jack’s hallucinations focus on a specific period that he doesn’t recognize yet is actually the future. Instead of being in the hospital, Jack finds himself standing outside a diner in the middle of winter. A waitress (Keira Knightley) at the diner notices him standing in the snow and gives him a ride to her place temporarily while she looks for a place for him to go after that. After giving up on finding a place for Jack to stay, she invites him to stay the night, but she doesn’t want to know his name. He charms her anyway, and soon she is telling Jack about how her mother died in a fire while falling asleep holding a lit cigarette. Her life is a mess, and she drinks heavily. While looking around her apartment, Jack finds his army dog tags that he gave to the young Jackie right before he was falsely accused of murder. He then asks her a weird question…what year is this? He tells her that it is 2007, and Jack is shocked. This waitress is the little girl that he helped by the side of the road…all grown up! He tries to explain to Jackie, whom he now knows is the girl, who he is. Jackie says that he couldn’t be Jack, because he died on January 1, 1993, of a head wound. She demands that Jack leave, and he ends up back in the morgue drawer in his own time. He now wants to get back there, so he can figure out how he died. Another inmate of Alpine Grove, Rudy Mackenzie (Daniel Craig), a guy who tried to kill his wife 30 times, tells Jack that it is easier to focus in the drawer if he doesn’t resist. While in the past, Jack is able to convince Dr. Lorenson that he is able to see into the future, making her an ally. While in the future though, he continues to investigate how he dies. Jackie (who now believes him) helps him and they find out some interesting things, including how Jackie’s life got so screwed up and the sadistic experiments that Dr. Becker performed on other patients. All the while, Jack starts to fall in love with Jackie, but if he can’t find out how he dies, he won’t be able to have the love last long.
I loved this movie, but it confused me at first. It moved so quickly that I didn’t understand what was going on half the time. If you watch it all the way through though, it will make sense by the end. John Maybury directed the movie, and even though he has apparently done many movies in his career, this is the first one I’ve ever heard of.
I only had one gripe that makes it not achieve a full five-star status. The love scene between Jack and Jackie was gratuitous. I know that Jack only had a limited time before he was going to die, but they jumped into bed pretty quickly. I’d never object to seeing a topless Knightley, but this just didn’t seem realistic for two people who are supposedly in love.
The acting performances were excellent though. This movie was the first one that Brody had headlined since his Oscar-winning turn in The Pianist. Since then, he has been in a couple of ensemble movies like The Singing Detective (which I’ve never seen) and The Village (which I wish I hadn’t seen.) I doubt that a time travel movie will garner him any Oscars, but then I didn’t think that a weird movie like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind would get any Oscar attention either, since it was released so early in the year. Knightley has always either played the good girl, or has been dressed up in period-piece costumes, so this is the first time she has been allowed to play the screwed up girl in normal clothes, and she pulls it off perfectly. I bet she will get an Oscar within a few years, if not for this movie (though as I said again, Mind got Kate Winslet an Oscar nomination.)
If you can keep up with the rapid-fire cuts and the weirdness of it all, I highly recommend The Jacket. Many people are going to compare it to The Butterfly Effect, since they are both about time travel located in the mind, but if you want to discriminate against that excellent movie just because it starred Ashton Kutcher, then maybe you will like this movie starring an Oscar winner!
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