March 04, 2005

The Jacket

Directed by John Maybury Starring Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Reviewed by Martin Tsai

One of the buzzed-about titles at this year's Sundance, The Jacket is alarmingly reminiscent of the festival's '04 dud The Butterfly Effect. Aside from the obvious studio backing and marquee stars, the two films also share time-traveling protagonists who are mentally unstable and time-tattered twists designed to artificially dress up the torn and frayed plots.

The Jacket opens with a music-video-esque montage of various swathes of night vision footage supposedly set during the 1991 Gulf War. Adrien Brody stars as U.S. Marine Sgt. Jack Starks, whose critical combat wound earns him a ticket home. Fast-forward to a year later, and he is in Vermont on trial for a murder of which he has no recollection. A guilty verdict gets him sentenced to a mental institution, where the shady Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson) subjects him to a 1970s medical experiment involving injections, straightjacket restraints and hours of confinement inside a morgue drawer. Ensuing head trips take him to year 2007, where he learns that his death is to occur within nine days back in 1992 and he must mesh together some ill-fitting puzzle pieces to prevent it.

Even if those involved with this film have never heard of 12 Monkeys, they should know that the unreliable narrator is no longer a novel device after Psycho, The Usual Suspects and The Sixth Sense. Many recent films with that pattern woven into their plots have also padded that material: the backwards narrative of Memento, the metaphysical and nostalgic Reagan-era subtexts of Donnie Darko and the scientific jargon of Primer. Even 12 Monkeys - which similarly features a protagonist thrown from time voyage into the loony bin - boasts elaborate production designs that make it a visual spectacle. Unfortunately The Jacket doesn't sport any such inventiveness.

Stitched together with inconsequential subplots, Massy Tadjedin's screenplay becomes threadbare with each revelation. Intriguing initial setups eventually prove fruitless. Stylish trimmings by director John Maybury and cinematographer Patrick Deming of Mulholland Drive simply aren't enough to patch up the story's obvious flaws. Impressive turns by Kristofferson and Daniel Craig (as a Brad Pitt-esque mental patient) seem to deserve a better vehicle. Perhaps the biggest shocker here is the Touched by an Angel ending, since fans of this kind of sci-fi thriller wouldn't likely check out the film if they expected this payoff.

Reprinted from WestEnder. © Copyright 2005 Martin Tsai. All rights reserved.