2005, R, 103 min. Directed by John Maybury. Starring Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig, Kelly Lynch, Brad Renfro.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., March 4, 2005
Amnesia and time travel – two of the cinema’s most recurrent narrative devices – are given another run-through in the new, and generally forgettable, Adrien Brody starrer, The Jacket. The movie begins during the 1991 war in Iraq as American soldier Jack Starks (Brody) is shot in the head by an Iraqi child. He survives, is shipped home to Vermont, but is burdened with a nagging case of amnesia. In voiceover, Jack tells us that he was 27 the first time he died – a nifty thing to remember, considering the amnesia and all, but nevertheless an unsettling boding of his travails to come. Wandering on foot down the open roads of Vermont, he comes upon a car by the side of the road. A young girl stands by the open hood while her mother appears chemically wasted, slumped on the shoulder. Jack fixes their car and conveniently gives the girl his dog tags. Things don’t go as well with his next ride: He’s picked up by a stranger (Renfro), who turns into a cop killer, but due to his amnesia, Jack can’t remember what occurred and is quickly convicted of the crime and sent to a hospital for the criminally insane. There, he undergoes a curious treatment regimen at the hands of Dr. Becker (Kristofferson), which involves strapping Jack into a garishly sewn-together straitjacket and shoving him into a mortuary drawer that turns out to be a frightening time-travel portal. After several mind-numbing journeys into the future, we realize along with Jack that he has been transported to the year 2007, and while there, he meets up with and beds the now-grown-up girl with his dogtags (Knightley), who, like her mother, is well along the road to personal oblivion. Visually, The Jacket has a lot of flash, but it hardly compensates for the fuzzy story. Not much is reconciled, and the film also becomes sidetracked by a couple of unproductive subplots (one involves a kindlier doctor at the hospital, played by Leigh). Brody retains that haunted look he parlayed into an Oscar in The Pianist, and Knightley has the most luscious lips this side of Angelina Jolie, while Kristofferson and Leigh work serviceably well but for little payoff. A subtle yet eerie soundtrack by musician’s musician Brian Eno is very effective. However, the film never really confronts any of the rich ideas inherent in the time-travel conceit, nor uses any of the military possibilities set up in the film’s opening. Amnesia and the U.S. military incursions in Iraq? Now there’s material for a mind-tripping déjà vu. Somewhere along the way, director Maybury, an arty British director making his Hollywood debut, and the dozen or so producers listed in the credits (among them Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney’s Section Eight and Mark Cuban and Todd Wagner’s 2929 Entertainment) seem to have lost the thread that holds together this particular straitjacket.