Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Jacket (2005)

Directed by John Maybury
Starring Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley

I remember seeing the previews for this movie and thinking initially that it would be a horror film. I mean, what other genre is there where you're tortured in a straight jacket? The premise seemed strange as well, and in hindsight still does, but perhaps that's what sets this movie apart from others like it and makes it memorable, even if other similar movies could be considered better.

A gulf war (the first one) veteran (Adrien Brody), wounded in the line of duty and discharged, is charged with a heinous crime and committed to an institution because he has been found to suffer from a delusional state and deemed mentally unstable. As part of his treatment he is routinely drugged, strapped into a full body straight-jacket and slid into a morgue drawer where the boundaries of reality break down and allow him to travel to another time. During his time in the drawer, he comes to find out about his own impending death and helps a woman (Keira Knightley) who is haunted by the semi-abusive relationship she had with her mother.

Ultimately this is a movie about self-sacrifice, good deeds and redemption, though it does break a few of time-travels unspoken rules in Hollywood. Namely that the future is either flexible or immutable in any given movie, but in The Jacket, it's seemingly both.

I still haven't seen The Pianist, Brody's Oscar-winning performance (though it is in my queue) so I can't compare this performance to what can be assumed to be his best work, but he does a good job playing crazy and off balance in this role. Keira Knightley does a good job and isn't her usual monotone self. She plays dark and damaged decently, but not convincingly. It's like when they try to ugly up an actor/actress to play a role... you still know they're good-looking underneath.

I was impressed by the supporting cast which included Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh (who amazingly stays fully clothed... though she isn't a starring role so maybe this doesn't count) and Daniel Craig (the new James Bond). Kristofferson plays his usual grizzled old man who could kick your ass and Leigh's character is good but relatively forgettable, serving as the yin to Kristofferson's yang. (Ok, that sounded bad.) Craig was a bit of a surprise in the sense that it's always fun to go back and see movies that now-famous actors were in before they became the big names they are today. Like watching Kevin Spacey in The Ref. One thing's for sure, I'm glad they left him blond as Bond, he's a bit odd looking as a brunette (or is that just him playing his role as a fellow patient well?)

There are plenty of flashes and surreal effects while Brody's character is in the morgue drawer. They're quite disorienting, which I'd imagine is a pretty good representation of what the character is supposed to be going through. Flashes of the past, the present, the future, the war, etc. A few of these sequences tend to go on for a while, but that just helps you to empathize I guess. There are no effects when the character arrives in or leaves a different time, he just disappears between camera cuts.

I seem to remember a lot of very quiet scenes with sound effects playing a bigger role in this movie than music, especially during the time in the morgue drawer to try and bring you into the character's experience in a sort of sensory deprivation chamber. Amusingly, the song that opens the credits seems to be an answer to the question posed in the final spoken line of the film.

Atmosphere and Immersive Details
You really feel you're in the drawer with Brody. The silence, the darkness, the flashes of light and images and staccato noises all really draw you in. Character motivation was weak, with some apparently sadistic orderlies who took a bit too much pleasure in their work and some reversals that seemed to come out of left field in the usual "I hate you, I love you" fashion.

My biggest issue is the premise of the movie: that if you're drugged and restrained and stuck in a dark cramped "womb-like" place, you'll actually start traveling through time. They hinted at the fact that one of the drugs causes visions and hallucinations, but I'd have been happier if they'd explored that avenue a bit further, really making you question if the character was actually traveling or just simply delusional as everyone else believed.

A good movie, but not a rewarding movie. I'd recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the actors or the genre, but if you're looking for a really good "mental patient traveling through time" movie, go check out 12 Monkeys. 3 Stars (Liked It)

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