THE JACKET (2005)
A Reassessment File by Paul McMahon – “The Distracted Critic”
I bought a copy of THE JACKET before I saw it. I needed a third movie to take advantage of a “Buy 2 Get 1 Free” deal, and it had the most interesting write up of the movies left on the rack. After a few weeks, I watched it while sitting on the floor, folding laundry. The movie grabbed me right away and I didn’t get much folded.
It dealt with sensory deprivation treatments in a mental hospital. Instead of a dedicated tank, like the one used in 1980’s ALTERED STATES, in this one the patient is secured in a full body straight jacket and left in a morgue drawer. While inside, the patient finds himself transported into the future and interacting with… we’ll call it “people from his past” to avoid spoilers. The star power in this one was astounding, and all the actors went above and beyond to make their characters believable and engaging. In all, I finished it impressed by the writing, directing, and everything else that went into it. I gave it four knives, and I watched it three more times in the next month.
It opens with night vision video of what is obviously a military mission, complete with garbled voices and machine gun fire. The first coherent words we hear are of someone yelling for a medic. We get the title card of IRAQ, 1991, and see a soldier in the heat of the moment attacking a woman. Another soldier, Jack Starks (Adrien Brody, THE PIANIST, 2002, and KING KONG, 2005) moves to help her, but her child blocks his path. Jack gives him a reassuring smile and the kid pulls a gun and shoots him in the head.
“I was 27 the first time I died,” Jack begins in the voice-over.
We see the military medics pronounce him dead, and then he gasps. The doctors are stunned, but continue their work, tagging him to be shipped back to the states.
In the next scene, Jack is walking alone on a snowy road, wearing his greens and carrying a backpack. He’s a mess, has no money, no place to stay. He comes across a stalled truck on the side of the road. A child greets him while her mother, obviously hungover, is passed out on a snow bank a few yards away. The child introduces herself as Jackie (Laura Marano, LADY BIRD, 2017), and says the truck won’t start. Jack starts to work on the engine while the mom, Jean Price (Kelly Lynch, Deborah Hartsfield in the TV series MR. MERCEDES), pukes in the snow. Jackie notices the dog tags hanging from Jack’s backpack and asks what they’re for. He tells her, and when she asks if she can have them, he smiles and tells her yes. The truck starts and Jean comes instantly awake and attacks Jack for being too close to her daughter. She drives away, leaving him on the road.
He continues on, hitchhiking, until he is picked up by The Stranger (Brad Renfro, APT PUPIL, 1998). The guy seems likable enough until he’s pulled over by a cop. The Stranger smiles and asks Jack if he’s ever been to jail, and then Jack is in court, facing stern questions from a judge and a prosecuting attorney. He insists he only remembers Jackie and Jean, but he can’t remember their last names, so the court can’t locate them for questioning. He remembers nothing after they drove off, but he feels like there was someone else there. He is accused of shooting the cop three
times. The jury finds him not guilty by insanity, and the judge commits him to a hospital where he says he hopes doctors can help him.
He arrives and is thrown in a cell, where he is injected quite a few times with drugs that make him loopy. When he is asleep, two orderlies barge in and attack him, then lead him to the hospital basement. He is subdued again, then bound in a full body straightjacket and stuffed into a morgue drawer for three hours. He is immediately blasted with memories and recollections, from his life. He sees the kid from the war, the shot, a glimpse of The Stranger, Jackie’s smile and Jean attacking him. They come crazily, unabated and out-of-control
The next we see of Jack, he’s sitting in the rec room. Another patient, Rudy MacKenzie (Daniel Craig, James Bond from CASINO ROYALE, 2006 through the recently announced BOND 25, due for release in 2019) recognizes Jack as “the cop killer.” His ravings are interrupted by Dr. Beth Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh, who I was surprised to find out has been acting since the late 70s, though most recently she appeared in Tarrantino’s THE HATEFUL EIGHT, 2015), who seems very concerned about Jake’s well-being. She asks pointed questions, trying to find out if Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson, Whistler in the BLADE franchise) is actually helping him.
The next time Jack is brought downstairs, he goes of his own free will. He walks up to the jacket, takes it off the hook, and whips it across Dr. Becker’s face, cutting him. The orderlies subdue Jack and bind him up, then slide him into the drawer. They ask Dr. Becker if they’re to leave him in there for the standard three hours, but he doesn’t answer and leaves.
Dr. Hopkins (Steven Mackintosh, UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION, 2006,and UNDERWORLD: RISE OF THE LYCANS, 2009) confronts Dr. Becker again, but the man refuses to give a time limit to the experiment. He shrugs off Dr. Hopkins’ worries with the line: “You can’t break something that’s already broken.”
Meanwhile, in the morgue drawer, Jack’s horrific memories have blinked away and he finds himself standing outside a diner at night, watching a twenty-something woman (Keira Knightley, Elizabeth Swann in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN franchise) walk to her car. She pulls up to him, finds out he’s got nowhere to go, and takes him in since it’s Christmas Eve. Once she determines that no shelter will take him, she offers him her couch and goes to take a bath. Jack makes them both grilled cheese with what he can find in the fridge. Afterward, she gets drunk and passes out and he looks around her apartment… and finds his own dog tags hanging on the key rack by the door.
Minutes later, Jack wakes as he’s yanked out of the morgue drawer. Dr. Becker is berating Dr. Hopkins for leaving Jack in all night. Jack has woken with the memory that he will be found dead in a few days, and must solve the mystery of who killed him before it actually happens.
The screenplay by Massy Tadjedin, which is based on a story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco, is a work of art. What could have turned into a maudlin tale of time-travel and redemption forms, instead, into a wonderful character piece that delves into the “whys” behind each person’s actions. As the film rolls, Becker’s throw-away comment to Dr. Hopkins, “You can’t break what’s already broken,” sets up a theme for everything to come.
Director John Maybury has kept the visuals and morgue drawer sequences pretty low-key, keeping the focus on the people and the story they tell.
The cast, like I said, is astounding. Adrien Brody is terrific here. He gets a bad rap a lot of the time, but I’ve always been impressed with his acting ability. Keira Knightly is terrific as well. Her character is a sickly alcoholic, and she’s credited auditioning for the role while sick with her getting the part. Kris Kristofferson also nails his role, dialing down what could be a mad doctor into something human and sympathetic. (And yes, that’s Mackenzie Phillips from TV’s ONE DAY AT A TIME as the scowling Nurse Harding.)
It’s too bad this movie wasn’t more widely seen on its release. It’s well worth the time. If you’ve missed it so far, you should definitely add it to your watch list.
THE JACKET, original assessment: four knives.
THE JACKET, reassessment: four knives.
© Copyright 2017 by Paul McMahon