The Jacket Movie Review

"To know virtue," the Marquis de Sade once said, "we must first acquaint ourselves with vice." While the controversial writer was not referring to The Jacket when he said that many years ago, it fits well with my assessment of the film, nonetheless. The Jacket's hostility will make stomachs churn and faces cringe, but a noble cause justifies the means in the end; because of the film's hostility, when tenderness ultimately appears, it's all the more poignant. But will thin-skinned viewers be able to endure the disturbing imagery until the affectionate, optimistic persona reveals itself?

Macabre, intense, and daring, The Jacket is like a surrealistic nightmare interlaced with an unambiguous daydream fantasy; it totters between asylum and insanity, pain and pleasure, and heaven and hell. Part romantic drama, time travel odyssey, murder mystery, and gothic thriller, the film never decides on a definite genre, and is similar in some ways to experimental films like Donnie Darko and Blue Velvet. Due to its unique design, the less viewers know about the plot before they see it, the more absorbing and revealing the film will be. Thus, a very vague synopsis follows:

The Jacket begins as Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (Adrian Brody) returns to his home in Vermont after surviving a gunshot wound to the head. He's not home for long, however, when bizarre, unexpected circumstances erupt. Before he is able to comprehend his unfortunate predicament, Starks is accused of murder. A jury finds him innocent by reason of insanity. Consequently, a judge sends him to a very creepy mental institution, operated by the dubious Doctor Becker (Kris Kristofferson).

Almost immediately, Doctor Becker and his assistants (including Jennifer Jason Leigh) begin experimental treatments on Starks. They inject him with drugs, drag him to the basement morgue, strap him inside a straight jacket, and throw his body inside the corpse drawer for hours at a time. After a while, Starks beings to hallucinate while inside the drawer, envisioning what may be the future for a Vermont family (Keira Knightley and Kelly Lynch) that he crossed paths with once on a deserted road.

Memorable, heartbreaking performances abound from Knightley, Leigh, and Lynch (I won't comment on Kristofferson's embarrassing stunt of a performance here). Brody -- who won the Best Actor Academy Award in 2002 for his work in The Pianist -- takes the audience on a tormented journey to hell and back with yet another tenacious, penetrating performance.

Lesser actors may have shot over the mark here, but Brody retains control of the character throughout the emotional roller coaster, even as Starks edges on the brink of insanity. Brody is precise and engaging; he filters the character's intensity and raw physicality through his eyes -- eyes from which innocence and aspiration elude beneath the ubiquitous fear, confusion, and bewilderment. This is an outstanding performance.

Director John Maybury (Love Is the Devil) tackles Massy Tedjedin's script with brutal confidence. He doesn't bother testing the waters; he dives right in, forcing the audience out of their comfort zones and challenging their perceptions of everything from life and death to destiny and fate. Personally, I left the theater a different person than when I entered (and that doesn't happen often). Hands down, The Jacket is one of the year's best films.

The DVD includes a documentary incorporating deleted scenes plus a featurette on the special effects.


Comments

The Jacket Rating

" Extraordinary "

Rating: R, 2005

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