Jacket, The

Reviewed By Robert Flaxman
Posted 01/02/06 03:10:05

"A jacket that's two sizes too small."
2 stars (Pretty Crappy)

Few things in the world of film are as aggravating as movies that present ideas and then refuse to explore them. John Mayburyís film The Jacket is not bad or poorly-made, but it suffers from that problem - there is simultaneously too much going on and not enough. Maybury apparently wants to provide color and context for his main plot, but he overlooks the issue that underdeveloped context can be worse than none at all.

The problem manifests itself right from the start. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody), a Gulf War veteran, is convicted of shooting a police officer. Because Jack suffers from amnesia due to a war wound, he does not remember what happened at the time of the shooting, though he is sure he was not responsible. A flashback backs this up, but the backstory is full of holes - it strains credulity to think that any reasonable police force would have thought Jack to be guilty based on the available evidence. Furthermore, Jackís amnesia helps land him in a hospital for the criminally insane rather than in jail... and then is never dealt with again.

Jack is treated by a doctor named Becker (Kris Kristofferson) by being shot full of drugs, tied up in a straitjacket, and pushed into a morgue drawer. From there he somehow manages to travel into the future, where he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), the grown-up version of a girl he met just before the shooting, and finds out that he only has a few days to live. Obviously we had to get there somehow, but The Jacket is vague on the details of Beckerís project. Films about time travel are usually pretty elusive about their methods, since one blown description can make the whole thing seem even more implausible than it is by nature, but the filmís characters are surprisingly unquestioning of this strange occurrence.

The hospital setting presents further problems. Jack semi-befriends another patient named Rudy (a shockingly unrecognizable Daniel Craig), but for all his appearances Rudy adds almost nothing to the story. Jackie mentions a major scandal at the hospital that was connected to the same doctors treating Jack, but this is forgotten as soon as it is brought up. The hospitalís tight security is mentioned at one point, yet Jack is able to wander into the grounds unsupervised.

Perhaps the oddest thing about The Jacket, and likely the most problematic, is how it drags even though itís barely over 90 minutes and has had its plot sliced down to the bare essentials, if not even further than that. There is a sequence of several minutes which is basically just Jack in the drawer beginning to see things, but itís nothing but snippets and they just come and go in split-seconds. This does establish mood, but there is far more of it than is necessary for the plot; meanwhile, the scenes set in 2007 jump from Jackie throwing Jack out of her house because she thinks heís lying about who he is to her filling him in on details of his death to a love scene. (Brodyís haggard physique may be the only thing in the film more skeletal than the plot structure.)

The time-travel aspect is at least interesting, but not enough is done with the story as a whole. The filmís conclusion leaves a distinct ďthatís it?Ē sort of feeling; the clipped feel of the rest of the film holds back the character depth, and without that, the ending lacks importance. It doesnít help that the film abruptly switches tracks at some point; Jack keeps returning to the future claiming that he needs to find out how he died, but that ends up not really mattering at all.

The Jacket is not an unentertaining movie on its face, but ultimately it doesnít seem to have much idea what it really wants to do, say, or be. Maybury has suggested in interviews that the film references the torture scandals of the U.S. government in Iraq and Cuba, but to suggest that The Jacket really has much of anything to say on the subject of torture is giving it far too much credit. At its current length, the film barely has enough time to squeeze in a plot; serious commentary on world politics seems a tad beyond the range of discussion.

Neither very bad nor very good, The Jacket manages to be watchable enough thanks to its high concept, but its ultimate execution of that concept is both hollow and unsatisfying. A bulkier movie might have been able to tie its various plot strands into a more coherent message, but The Jacket is simply too lean to be important; its desire to toss out a few life lessons is admirable, but it doesnít have much with which to back them up.

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