Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Jacket Review

The Jacket 2005

The following film is an interesting little film. The movie was marketed as a horror film, and it got me to go see it in theaters when it came out. The movie really didn't get a lot of fan fare as it was actually more of a Science Fiction story than a real horror movie. The movie played on psychological trauma and fear rather than anything too horrific, but I think that Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley did an adequate job bringing the characters to life. So without further ado, join me with the following review of The Jacket from 2005.

The movie is loosely based on a book by Jack London called "The Star Rover". I wonder why people don't read more? Those that are deep into books will find the connection that this movie has with their reading materials with such ease, but apparently no one cares about that, so we'll continue on our little journey through this film.

The movie, released in 2005, talks about a Gulf War veteran Jack Starks, who recovers from a head wound inflicted on him via a child in the Gulf War. The bullet hits his head and he, by a miracle, makes it and is let go of the Army.

We catch up with Jack later on, he's walking through Vermont on a snowy day. He runs into a little girl and her mother, their car is broken down. This is where things start to foreshadow for he rest of the film. We'll stop here for a second, in order to bring you a trailer for the film The Jacket.

The story starts to get juicy when a car stops to pick up Jack. We are then rushed through the next few sequences and the story unveils Jack in a courtroom with amnesia, a police officer is slain and Jack is considered insane and is put into a mental institution. This is where things start to turn to the macabre as he is put into a straight jacket and placed into a small hole in a wall, resembling a mausoleum it is here where we really start our journey, and the viewer goes back...or should I say forward in time.

Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Kris Kristofferson round out this awesome cast. Daniel Craig and Brad Renfro also make appearances, but it's the first five that really edge out one heck of a story. Adrien Brody does a great job at being disturbed and confused. To that I give him a great credit for this lackluster film at times. Kristofferson's doctor role is matched with equal sincerity as he truly reacts in a way that befits the mood of the film. Plus, I like his work in "Highwaymen", with Johnny Cash.

The movie starts to unravel at the seams when Jack starts to piece to together why he is going forward in time. He is going forward in time for several reasons. These reasons range from saving Jackie's mom's life (Keia Knightley) to sleeping with her, to helping a doctor with a mute patient. He also learns that he will die and he tries to find out why. That becomes the crux of the plot as the film starts to move along on what seems like predictable rails.

The film quality is awesome. I loved the editing and the colors muted throughout the film. Emotional connections are mounted specifically on how the film is put together. The frenetic edits, the "Saw" like cut scenes and transfiguration of the time portal inside the Straight Jacket are impressive. The footage mixes so well together and at times I feel that this movie is nothing more than a visual representation of some of Neil Gaiman's novels. There are obvious lackluster attempts at storytelling, but those flaws are enveloped in some great photographic elements. For instance, there is a moment when we meet up with Jack, alone and confused in front of a gas station, everything is dark but the gas station, the lights cascading into a nice artistic photo, as we meet close up with him, you really get lost in the moment and you don't need music, you just feel the loneliness and confusion that the character is feeling in the moment. It's moments like that, that make movies worth it, even ones that seem to crawl their way to an ending; like this movie.

The final act really shovels a lot of information at you and starts to put together why this is happening. The ending really uses a great layer cake of ideas to form the outcome. We know Jack is going to die, as it is mentioned early on in the film, we know how he is going on, which we find out through dialogue, but the way the director deals with that death and supposed resurrection is amazing, and really feels like a book ending not a movie ending. This will either upset you or make you a believer in this film. I had to watch it twice to pick up all the pieces, and much like the way "The Prestige" was handled in the ending, the movie comes full circle but not without showing you three steps to the magic trick...

Is The Jacket a Scary Film? : Yes. I found that the movie was scary at many instances. We'll focus on two major issues, and then close this one up for the record books.

The first scary notion of this film is the way our character is treated. Yes it is scary to think that there are hospitals that believe in putting people in straight jackets and placing them into holes in the wall for "therapy" and healing. The scarier notion is that we live in a society that places their lives in a box. Whatever it is you believe, however "open minded" you think you are, you are still closed minded. The more you think about that idea, the more you realize that you are Jack Starks. I know, that is a stretch, but if you're not scared of your closed minded nature, then you will most likely join the millions of people that are claustrophobic. Have you ever seen a coffin close up? Have you ever laid inside one? Trust me, you'll lose your bravery in moments. Now imagine you're in a straight jacket and locked inside for 24 hours, like Jack was in this film. That my friends is scary. Try to lay down on your back, restrained for a sleep cycle and force yourself not to move. Even that notion of being bound and not in control is scary. Control is what we all want, and the scariest thing in life is that in many ways we have NO CONTROL! That scares me and it is illustrated in the deeper meanings of this film.

The second scary notion revolves around the question, What if you knew you were going to die? I mean, what if you know that in a few days you're going to die? What would you do? Would you change? Would you live life balls to the wall? What would happen? In this movie we are dealt a supernatural, time traveling hand and we have to explore that psychological idea with great detail. That is scary to me. The same idea was comically shown in the movie "Big Fish" as each kid looked at their final death, which thwarted some of their future decisions. The scariest notion for me is not so much when or how, but the moments leading up to it. Would you succumb to the first scary notion of lacking control? Or would you fight it tooth and nail?

The most disturbing element of this film is that Jack seems to have beat it, he is not going to die...but then a slip on the ice and we are placed into a strange that fades to white. I won't spoil the ending, but consider the slip, and the way the director deals with the juxtaposition between death with life and then you begin to see why this film is scary.

Those two elements aren't the only scary ideas that come out of the film. The idea of extra-corporeal time-travel is not a new idea. The whole repressed memory angle has been done to death in other films. However, this one is tightly wound, and if you really think about it, the whole movie and title is a metaphor for our lives. Whether it is Religion, Legalism, Atheism, or any other belief system in the world, we choose to place ourselves in a straight jacket in hopes of calming the anxiety of the future for ourselves. At the end, we reach for the skies and tomorrow may never come, but it's in the moments leading up to our false sense of safety that true horror plays out, and The Jacket illustrates that for us so well, it becomes more than science fiction, it becomes a Scary Movie.

The Jacket is available on dvd, and I recommend it. However, if you're looking for a casual movie to watch with your brain turned off, I wouldn't recommend this movie. This movie, to be fully enjoyed, needs a bit of your brain. Otherwise, to be honest, it's not that great of a film. It's dry, it has pacing problems, there are plot holes, and there are moments when y ou just want to sleep. However, upon seriously thinking about the film you start to gain a little more insight into the film, the story and why it is a scary film. The Jacket is far from perfect, but it looks good and Adrien Brody acts with such brevity that you find yourself thinking twice about him. Even Keira Knightley managed to make me think twice about how hot she is...but this is a much younger, much more "punk" Keira; then again it's just a character. Check out The Jacket and read the 1915 novel "The Star Rover" by Jack London, I liked this time traveling film, even though I think it has some holes in it. The more I see it, the more I start to enjoy it.

Wait! If you want to see more examples of slow paced cerebral movies, check out my reviews on the following films:

The Prestige Review
Primer Review

And if you're in the mood for a little something similar in pacing and culture, scientific metaphors consider viewing "The Machinist", which plays on similar themes.

Looking for grindhouse, horror, or sci-fi films? Please check out our amazon astore featuring all things horror. Don't trust astore? Check out, surprisingly they have more grindhouse,horror,and rare sci-fi than you may not have thought possible.


Conner Bryce said...

Very creative and imaginative. I highly recommend this film to all suspense enthusiasts.

Erin said...

I enjoyed this movie but had forgotten about it and in fact never knew it was based on a book, so thanks for giving me something to put in my reading list. You're right, people don't read enough. In my case I can't stop watching scary movies long enough! But I rationalize it by writing about them.