Title: The Jacket
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Mystery
Director: John Maybury
Screenwriters: Tom Bleecker, Marc Rocco
Starring: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Daniel Craig
The Jacket begins as an intense and exciting play on The Butterfly Effect and Jacob’s Ladder, but then somehow ends up morose, lifeless, inconsequential. The last act seems to come from another film entirely, the kind of movie that has lots of shots of people staring pensively into the distance. Then it hit me: this is supposed to be a serious movie, and the director is the sort who thinks that “serious” must necessarily equal “inert.” The breakneck pace of its first half simply wouldn’t do.
That would likely have been fine had the film made good on its promise. Unfortunately, in its attempts to become “serious,” The Jacket ditches everything that made it intriguing in the first place. It thinks that it has turned its focus from “plot” to “character” (God help us), but all it has done is wimp out. There are no characters, at least none worthy of a character-based finale. Surely not after the movie has spent two acts teasing us with story.
Oh, and there is so much here that is interesting. The film opens with green night-vision shots of Gulf War horrors, then tells of a soldier who was shot by a little boy and nearly died — or perhaps he did die, and come back to life. Or not. We don’t know. (Note to director John Maybury: this is called “uncertainty,” and this is why “we” are “intrigued.”) In any case, after getting discharged Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) meets a sweet little girl and her drugged-up mother stranded on the side of the road and then… Something happens. We’re not sure what, but we find our protagonist on trial for murder, and eventually acquitted by reason of insanity — Gulf War Syndrome, you see. He’s sent to a mental hospital, where a potentially malevolent doctor (Kris Kristofferson) awaits with the controversial practice of drugging his patients and locking them in a drawer for extended periods of time.
I describe the plot to prove a point: it’s interesting, isn’t it? At the very least it’s strange and mysterious, and when I found out that the drawer seems to send Starks traveling through time, The Jacket had my absolutely undivided attention. I wanted to keep watching, and even when I could swear it wasn’t making much sense (in retrospect, most of those mental hospital scenes are pretty dire, especially the one where Starks just sort of blithely walks out, and is followed by the female psychiatrist, alone and unarmed) I could forgive it because I thought that something was going on. The movie got me. It had me in its grasp and could do anything it wanted to me.
It chose, apparently, to leave me lying there, naked and alone. Nothing happens; everything is precisely as it seems. The film seemed primed to surprise us, spring something earth-shatteringly revelatory or at least mildly satisfying, give us something to chew on and think about. But our hands close on air. The Jacket becomes whiny and weepy, and suddenly its stupidity — the holes, the flaws, the paradoxes — comes flying out from around the corner and into full view. It abandons everything it had to go after something it never even approached. Inexplicable.
In the recent press junket, Maybury had some choice words for the likes of Clint Eastwood, Charlie Kaufman, and the Oscars. He should give Million Dollar Baby, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and maybe even the Oscar ceremony another shot. He could learn something.