Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is in the army during the first Gulf War when he takes a bullet to the brain. Jack should be dead, but he survives, although he has severe memory problems. Consequently, when he is charged with a murder he did not commit he ends up being sent to a mental hospital. There he becomes the patient of Dr. Thomas Becker (Kris Kristofferson) who has an unusual way of treating Jack. He puts Jack into a straight jacket, shoots him full of drugs, and shoves him in a cabinet in the morgue. Becker thinks that this would be a good thing, but with a Nurse Ratchet type named Harding (Mackenzie Phillips) helping him, we have our doubts. However, whatever Becker was thinking would happen to Jack, having his patient travel in time fifteen years into the future was certainly not on the list.
At this point, when you want to roll your eyes over this proposed method of time travel, I want to point out that since time travel is impossible that there never can be a method that will truly pass mustard in this respect. But if we are talking really stupid nothing beats "Somewhere in Time" where Christopher Reeves's character "thinks" himself back to the past. More importantly, that particular film proved that it is not what time travel theory you come up with but what you do with the story and your characters once you pull something out of your hat. Especially since that becomes the strength of "The Jacket."
Before his life went from bad to worst, Jack had a chance encounter with a young girl and her mother. They might not be able to provide an alibi for the crime, but they would at least prove that he actually remembered something real. In the future, Jack encounters the little girl, Jackie (Keira Knightley), now a young woman. He tells her who he is and she tells him that he is dead and the date on which he died. It turns out that is less than a week away in Jack's "present." With each visit to the morgue drawer, and to the future, Jack is able to find out more information that he can use. Becker is not to be trusted, but Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh) is sympathetic, even if she does not believe he is traveling in time. As he learns about his limited future from Jackie he also learns what happens to her in the future, and that becomes part of the calculus as he tries to avoid dying a second time.
In retrospect I seem to like more intimate time travel stories than those that try to rewrite history in a way that would change everything in the world in which we live. In that regard "The Jacket" is not great, but it is still pretty good and once you accept the premise ends up being a lot more satisfactory than a lot of films in this genre I have seen recently. It is ironic that Knightley did the movie to avoid being stuck in corsets for the next two decades while Brody is starting to find himself in a niche as the most mournful face on the big screen since, oh, I do not know, let us say Stan Laurel (How is that for a reach?). On this DVD you will find that the project history and deleted scenes featurette is pretty interesting, and includes a different cut of the film's love scene that is an excellent example of montage (suggesting rather than seeing is a good thing in such instances).
A year later Jack it hitching through the snow covered Vermont countryside. He comes across a stranded vehicle and the stranded figures of a young girl and her mother. The girl, Jackie, asks Jack if he can help them out whilst her mother is seemingly incapacitated either on drink or drugs. After fixing the car Jack is picked up by a lone driver who agrees to take Jack as far as the Canadian border. The two chaps don't make it that far however as they are pulled over by a highway patrol vehicle. In a flash of scenes we discover that the cop that pulled them over has been killed and Jack is facing a prison sentence unless the unsettled appearance of Jack's mind can convince the jury that he belongs in a secure mental hospital rather than a prison. Jack, who can remember nothing of the incident is eventually committed to a secure unit and begins a regime of sever and awful treatments.
The doctor in charge, Dr Thomas Becker has devised a method of strapping his patients into straight jackets, drugging them and then placing them into a mortuary body container for hours on end. Jack is understandably scared stiff by the treatment and rebels at every opportunity and when he starts to hallucinate inside the chamber things start to get worse. In one hallucination he is transported 15 years into the future to the year 2007 where he meets the grown up version of the girl he rescued at the roadside all those years ago. When he's convinced Jackie he is who he says he is, things turn even more frightening when Jackie reveals that the "real" Jack has died on a date that means Jack has only 4 days to live. In a desperate effort to discover what has happened to himself Jack even contrives situations to be placed into the jacket so he can go into the future, meet Jackie and continue their investigations.
Films that have featured this warping of time have come and gone before and this film is as intriguing as the rest of them. Where this one differs is the bleakness of the situation of the time traveller and the viewer really pities the disturbed Jack as he tried to make sense of what is happening. This pathetic character is excellently played by Adrien Brody and his mournful face is really suited to the role. Keira Knightley, Jackie, is likewise superb and the couple generate a great relationship. There's also good support from Jennifer Jason Leigh as the more kindly Dr Lorenson and even Kris Kristofferson weighs in with a decent effort as Dr Becker.
I do feel though that "The Jacket" is one of those films that you watch for the first time and are blown away by it, but when you either watch it again or analyse the content the shine does dull slightly. For example, there are three manipulations of time in the film and only one of them actually "works". See if you can follow this, Jack and Jackie learn in the future that Dr Lorenson used an electronic shock treatment to cure a young patient, so Jack goes back in time and suggests the treatment to Dr Lorenson. She tries it and hey presto it works, but who actually thought of it? Nobody, so really the suggestion of the treatment can have never been there to suggest, if you see what I mean. Likewise the story around Dr Becker was a little open ended, and I'm not sure it served the story at all.
The Film is good, don't get me wrong, it's very entertaining and even though some of the scenes are particularly harrowing the story does have a certain feel good factor about it which doesn't make it too grim.
Starks' problems begin when a little Iraqi kid plugs him in the head as his unit is trying to control a crowd during a combat mission in the Gulf War. He is left for dead and may in fact have died (but I don't want to get into a tricky metaphysical discussion on this point). Then, it's a year later and we see Jack walk down a wintry road and help a woman and daughter get their car started - a seemingly innocuous event but one of great importance in this story. Then Jack bums a ride with a stranger, the car gets pulled over by a policeman, and the next thing Jack knows, he's on trial for killing a cop. No one believes his story, much of which he doesn't remember anyway, and there's no denying the fact that he suffered a serious head injury in the war, so he ends up being confined in a mental institution for the criminally insane. There are definitely some insane people at the institution - unfortunately, some of them are on the staff.
I'm still trying to figure out who told Kris Kristofferson he could act, but he shows up here as Dr. Mengel- uh, I mean Dr. Becker. His idea of treatment is shooting Jack up with some kind of hallucinatory drug, confining him in a straitjacket (you didn't think the title referred to a Members Only jacket, did you?), and shutting him up in a morgue drawer for hours on end. As a claustrophobic, that gives me all kinds of heebie jeebies, let me tell you. The thing is, though, that Jack starts seeing things while he's stuck in there - fragmented memories come at him a mile a minute, and in time he begins to see the future. He meets up with the little girl (Jackie) he helped earlier in the film (who grew up quite nicely into Keira Knightley) - only it's 2007, which is fifteen years in Jack's future. Actually, you can't really say it's Jack's future because he finds out that he died (or will die) on New Year's Day of 1993. Finding out you're dead is a bit of a shock, of course, so he tries to find out exactly how he died - his only hope to learn the truth is his link to 2007 and Jackie - and he can only see that future world while he is in the jacket and in that dark place. Jennifer Jason Leigh plays a less evil doctor in the institution who comes to share a special bond with Jack (one she is reluctant to accept at first). Hey, it's not easy for a guy in a mental institution to convince one of his doctors that he is seeing the future.
Things get rather complicated, as you might imagine, but the movie handles the time issue wonderfully, and the whole movie really does make perfect sense. Maybe they stretch things a tad at the very end, but it's not a problem. The Jacket isn't for everyone; it's too dark and mysterious to satisfy those looking for pure entertainment. For the serious-minded viewer who loves dark sojourns into the depths of human thought and possibilities, however, The Jacket is a movie you'll be telling all of your like-minded friends about.
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