Jacket, The

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 01/25/05 07:15:46

"An entirely misleading trailer, an entirely thrill-free thriller."
2 stars (Pretty Bad)

SCREENED AT THE 2005 SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL: All you’d need to hear to be interested in seeing The Jacket is that it was produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, and stars Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley. That combo, right there, should be the stuff of critical acclaim and box office gold. It should be the stuff of legend. It should be a strong award-contender. In other news… it isn’t.

It’s really difficult to know where to begin in taking apart The Jacket, because it’s just so… blah. It’s like going to a gelato store and ordering vanilla… and vanilla. In a cardboard cone. Adrien Brody is Jack Starks, a Gulf War veteran given a medical discharge after being shot in the head by an Iraqi child. Now an amnesiac with occasional brain meltdowns, Starks hits the road and goes all Zen for a while, encountering a drugged-out mom and a precocious kid. In a moment of overt pleasantness, he gives his army dog tags to the little’un, then stumbles into a shoot-out between a local boob and a cop (as you do). With the cop dead, the boob heading for the hills, and Starks severely injured at the roadside with no memory of the events that had just taken place, the soldier is charged with the policeman’s murder. Categorized as criminally insane, and sent to a nutbar hospital where Kris Kristofferson likes to lock folks in the morgue freezer for hours at a time so they’ll get in touch with their inner demons, it’s probably safe to say that Starks shouldn’t bother buying any lottery tickets for a while. Essentially, he has all the luck and future prospects of Pauly Shore.

All of the above should be too much storyline for a critic to rightly give away in a film review but, in reality, all of these events are shown in a matter of minutes after the opening credits have rolled, and, on top of that, they’re also given away in the trailer. So ya-boo to all of you.

If you’ve seen the trailer for The Jacket, you no doubt expect that as soon as Brody goes into the meat locker for the first time, the film becomes a sick and twisted black whodunit thriller with style by the truckload and pop scares that will send you into a startled prolapse. Sadly, you’d be wrong. Instead, The Jacket instead turns into a sort of odd ghost story, only not, or maybe a bizarre time travel flick, but probably not, with the kind of twists and turns that leave you thinking, “Okay… so what?”

Keira Knightley, so often called the next big thing in the film world, proves once again that the empress wears no clothes… by wearing no clothes. While that may seem like reason enough for some to see the film, and maybe sneak in a cellphone with digital camera capability while they’re at it, for most folks who might actually be looking for… What do they call it? Acting? …This is really not the place to drop anchor. Brody, so often the strongest glue holding a film together, is bland and boring and so darn “aw shucks” in this that you want to throttle him every time he gives one of those patented goofy “gee willickers” grins and ruffles a kid’s hair approvingly. Opposite him, Keira Knightley brings all the emotional weight of a block of Edam to her role, as the little’un entering Drake’s life some fifteen years down the road. Someone needs to tell her acting coach that ‘mouth agape’ is not an emotion.

Sure, there are some good moments in the flick which I’m admittedly not giving a lot of column inches to, but the fact of the matter is that even the good parts of the film never really come close to being great. Director John Maybury surely knows how to conjure a mild bout of claustrophobia in the minds of his audience, and his background as a photographer is apparent more than once, but just as the film begins to look as if it will descend into mind-blowing madness, or at least some sort of actual reason to be, Maybury wimps out. If scattered images of horror in a young actor’s irises were enough to instill fear in an audience, then people would have run screaming from Spun and Gothika and Requiem for a Dream.

Actually, thinking about it, I ran screaming from two of those films, but not because I was scared of them.

Maybury comes with high recommendations attached – his previous feature, Love is the Devil, was reasonably well received – but for all the talk of the director invoking Fassbinder, Pasolini, Warhol and Anger in his work, the end result of his first stab at the big show is decidedly pedestrian. What’s supposed to be the message behind The Jacket? Are we supposed to be feeling for Starks when he seems able to do things Superman would have to fly around the world a hundred times really fast to match? And what of Jennifer Jason Leigh, becoming the master healer simply by plugging people into light sockets? Huh? Wha? Is it a drama, a thriller, a horror movie or what? Even the cast don’t seem to really know for sure.

Ultimately, The Jacket is a film that is destined to underwhelm. If the spinning chair footage from The Ring was enough to make you clear your poopchute in fright, by all means gets stuck in to this flick and stand around the watercooler on Monday talking of how eery it was. And then wake up to yourself… wimp.

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