**** (out of 5)
March 4, 2005
Adrian Brody as JACK STARKS
Kiera Knightley as JACKIE PRICE
Kris Kristofferson as DR. THOMAS BECKER
Jennifer Jason Leigh as DR. LORENSON
Kelly Lynch as JEAN PRICE
Studio: Warner Independent Pictures
Directed by: John Maybury
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Let’s face it. So far, 2005 has been a pretty stinky year for movies. Barring the Oscar contenders that are getting their wide releases in January and February, most of the films that have come to a theater near you this year have been sorely lacking.
And while there have been a few movies that were decent so far, “The Jacket” is one of the first really solid movies to show up this year.
The film starts off a bit rough, telling the story of a Gulf War veteran named Jack Starks (Adrian Brody) who suffered brain damage in combat. He’s got memory problems and – after being in the wrong place at the right time – he is charged with the murder of a state trooper. He knows he’s innocent (or at least that’s what his damaged brain is telling him), but the court finds him insane. He must spend the next months of his life in a mental institution.
His doctor is far from Kildaire, played by a very shaggy Kris Kristofferson, and his methods are far from normal. One of his treatments for Starks is to bind him in a straightjacket, shoot him full of drugs and lock him in a morgue drawer for hours on end. The story starts to take off once Starks spends some time in the drawer. While inside, Starks learns that he can travel out of his body and experience bent reality and even time travel.
Ultimately, “The Jacket” is a type of science fiction the literary world prefers to call “speculative fiction.” This is a name that stuffy, pretentious sci-fi writers like Harlan Ellison insist upon because they don’t like being labeled a hack. But to me, it’s a science fiction story. Sure, stepping back from the film, it plays a little bit like a cheap pulp fiction novel, but that’s okay ‘cause I love science fiction.
In fact, I really get into science fiction stories that rely a little more on the surreal than on $100-million effects budgets (although those are pretty cool, too). These movies rarely make a real impact because they’re lost in the shuffle. Your run-of-the-mill sci-fi fan isn’t turned on because they’re no starship, android or galactic/world government. Mainstream fans often turn away because they aren’t into the fantastic elements.
Some of these pretty solid (yet under-appreciated) surreal films include Brad Anderson’s “Happy Accidents,” David Cronenberg’s “eXistenZ” and Scott Reynolds’ “The Ugly.” If you haven’t seen these, they’re worth checking out – as is “The Jacket.”
The cast does a fine job, and it’s nice to see Kris Kristofferson actually act again. Keira Knightly overdoes some things early in her role as the sickly alcoholic waitress, and Adrian Brody is a bit too creepy to be fully believable as the romantic hero. He actually seems split in the role, though, because he really works well as the tortured mental patient.
I wouldn’t go as far to say that “The Jacket” is the best film of 2005 so far, but it’s definitely worth checking out instead of some of the garbage that’s out there.