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The Jacket

The Academy Awards have all been dealt out, and its time to finally put the past behind us and look forward to a new crop of films in the local goog-a-plexes. That’s right, as we ‘round the corner on January and February, what is essentially “film wasteland,” viewers will be pleased to find an occasional “ground rule double” amongst the rest of the riff-raff.

Let’s face it, times are tough and money is hardly worth parting with for frivolous expenses, and although film is a fruitful derision most of the time, one can hardly fault the public from being cautious of some of the films released around this season. With the onslaught of banality currently haunting the cinemas, one could do a lot worse than The Jacket this weekend.

This is coming from someone who sat through White Noise and The Pacifier.

No, director John Maybury’s latest film, as flawed as it may be, is still oddly entertaining. A simple hook and an excellent cast certainly help the whole thing along, but underneath it’s apparent that the film could have easily taken a turn for the worse at any time. It’s a wonder that it didn’t.

Maybury seems to be setting us up for a post-war discourse with his opening sequence. Circumventing the now tired trend of stylishly tight opening titles accompanied by raucous industrial music, Maybury instead opts for realistic night vision footage of Gulf War-like activity. This use of repeated explosions, gunfire, and overall chaos seems to be going somewhere, but never fully materializes through the course of the film itself.

Instead, we are spun a yarn involving a young soldier named Jack Sparks (Adrien Brody), who is presumed fatally wounded after a gunshot wound to the head during a raid. Sparks lives, and ends up entangled in a web of confusion so convoluted that we find ourselves lost in the process. His injury results in lapses of amnesia, and upon returning to the States Sparks finds himself wandering the highways amidst snowdrifts on a trek to visit some friends.

During his trek he comes across a stranded mother and daughter, whose truck refuses to start in the cold weather. The child’s name is Jackie, and her mother, Jean (Kelly Lynch), suffers from the after effects of either too much booze or too many pills. Come to think of it, she’s probably just had too much of everything. Sparks helps the two along by getting the truck started, but is sent packing when a disillusioned Jean suspects that he has harmed her daughter in some fashion.

Further along the road, Sparks somehow finds himself accused of murdering a police officer amidst a snowstorm. After a brief trial, the courts acknowledge his condition and he is convicted and sentenced to an asylum for the criminally insane.

Sparks’ treatment is routine to begin with, but at night things take a turn for the worst. Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson) uses Sparks as a human guinea pig in an experiment involved a heady concoction of drugs, a straight jacket, and a morgue locker, normally used to store bodies. Sparks first trip into the locker is filmed in such a claustrophobic fashion that it almost becomes stifling to watch. The cold dark silence is intended to allow patients a womb-like state to work through their sicknesses according the Becker, but Sparks finds something else lurking in the dark upon each return.

Instead of tremendous suffering, Sparks finds himself magically transported into the future via Becker’s harsh treatment. While there, he learns that he is destined to die, and immediately sets forth to uncover the mysteries surrounding his fate.

The film sounds hackneyed enough, and it is, but it never stoops to the level of insult. Too many films snub their nose at the intelligence levels of common audiences, but The Jacket seems to wear its absurd plot notions on its sleeve. The cast severely helps this suspension of logic along, with Brody delicately traversing the line between lunatic and tragic hero. Although the factors of his disease and the treatment of patients in the film are completely fabricated, Brody still manages to clearly illustrate how one might begin to believe the things they see when suffering from delusions. The Jacket still falls short of Cronenberg’s Spider, but manages to entertain and perplex nonetheless.

Brody is hardly alone in his endeavors, aided by Kristofferson as well as Keira Knightley as a more adult Jackie, and Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Lorenson, who eventually comes to help Sparks along on his journey. The cast does such an excellent job that some of the shoddy underpinnings seem less important and nearly forgivable.

Sure it has its flaws, the third act resolution initially feels awkward and wrong, especially a sequence of resolve between Jackie and Jack. Yet despite all of this The Jacket manages to entertain, and even invoke an interesting suggestion regarding past sins and our ability to affect change in our lives no matter how dire the situation may be.

We can dream, can’t we?


Mario Anima

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