Admittedly, The Jacket looks interesting on the surface. For one, it’s got an extremely dependable cast. Adrien Brody is simply a fantastic actor to watch. I wouldn’t hesitate to put him on a similar shelf as Edward Norton in terms of generation, acting chops and quality of work. The cast also includes current white-hot, talented ingénue Keira Knightley branching out from her Disney corset, industry legend Kris Kristofferson, who keeps getting creepier with age, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, whose work is always trustworthy. Add that to an intriguing “Twilight Zone”-ish set-up (veteran has weird, out-of-body experiences while locked in a drawer) and avant garde British director John Maybury, and you’ve got an automatic hit on your hands, right? Well, that was the theory.
About ten minutes into the film I got the sneaking suspicion that it might turn out to be a wannabe Jacob’s Ladder. In reality, it’s a warmed-over La Jetee with sex and a bathing Keira Knightley. This makes for moments of excitement of course, but not I’m afraid, a compelling movie experience.
Our story begins in 1992. Jack Starks (Brody) is a forgotten Desert Storm veteran who suffers some sort of mental problem, as he is the (un)fortunate survivor of a bullet to the head. After the war, while hitchhiking he is picked up by the WRONG guy, who kills a cop, leaving Starks unconscious in the snow. Starks is convicted for the crime and sent to a mental institution. There he is subjected to an experimental treatment, some form of straitjacketed sensory deprivation in a morgue drawer (I think I saw an episode of “Fear Factor” like this, but it involved a lot of insects and a hot woman in a bikini), at the hands of the sadistic Dr. Becker (Kristofferson).
When inside the drawer, he experiences some strange phenomena wherein he is thrust into the future, the year 2007 to be exact. As it happens this is sixteen years after he supposedly dies, according to news reports. In this future, he meets Jackie, a little girl he helped once, all grown up and morphed into the scary, American-accented Keira Knightley. With her help, he has to figure out why he is flying through time and see if he can avoid the circumstances that will lead to his death.
The Jacket really would’ve made a better “Twilight Zone” episode (but not part of that horrible 2002 Forest Whitaker-hosted excrement/series) or at least some other sci-fi short format medium, than a feature film. The plot seems dense at first, and then gets thinner and thinner as you realize the mystery really doesn’t matter.
There is no doubt that the film commands a certain amount of respect. It is an independent film with a very distinct look and thematic sensibility. You can sense a real effort to make something different behind Maybury’s direction and Massy Tadjedin’s screenplay. However, that respect wanes with the realization that the movie really is a shameless rip-off of Chris Marker’s excellent 1962 short film La Jetee (which was already contemporarily remade in the form of Terry Gilliam’s 12 Monkeys). Plus, the seeming similarities to Jacob’s Ladder were not unintentional, as two of three alternate endings (included in the DVD’s special features) are lifted directly from that stunning Adrian Lyne film. And what ending do we get instead: a neat, little syrupy example of ill-conceived irony. This was not the type of risk-taking storytelling the trailer or the director promised.
I’m surprised to find out The Jacket was financed by Steven Soderbergh and his collaborative film company Section 8. Those guys usually have a good eye when it comes to up-and-coming visionary filmmakers and/or films (with the exception of that horrid mistake, the updated Insomnia). The Jacket certainly looked like something incredible. It had so much potential but unfortunately turned out to be just another forgettable contemporary thriller – a disposable weekly release to be shuttled off to discount bin DVD heaven.
The Jacket is not heavy on DVD extras. It is the type of package that infers the studio will simply release a Special Edition in a few months, in order to further sucker the already-suckers who were unfortunate enough to pony up the cash the first time.
There is no director or actor commentary, which I found odd, seeing as how the film had such high artistic aspirations from those involved. There is a sort of quasi-documentary, with deleted/extended scenes mixed in. I found this to be a surprisingly effective way to include deleted scenes in a DVD. Usually I don’t even pay attention to deleted scenes, as they are often presented with no context from the filmmakers and therefore lose much significance to viewers. However, intermixing them with documentary-style interviews with the director and screenwriter, I could at least get a feeling as to why they were put to film, and not be mind-numbingly bored by the end of the scenes.
Also included is a featurette regarding the movie’s art direction, which I have got to give props to, if only for revealing the director’s avant garde influences. As everyone should be made aware, Stan Brakhage rocks.
Other than a theatrical trailer, which at this point is standard fare, there is nothing else in terms of extra features. Then again, I can’t think of any additional features that would make this disc more appealing. An unrated version with more nudity? It’s possible I suppose, in a Katie Holmes/The Gift kind of way.