Still No Decent Role for Adrian Brody in "The Jacket"
- Thursday, March 03, 2005
Release Date: March 4, 2005
Rating: R (for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity)
Run Time: 102 min.
Director: John Maybury
Actors: Adrien Brody, Kiera Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Daniel Craig, Mackenzie Phillips
I’m starting to feel sorry for Adrian Brody. Here he is, the youngest guy ever to get the Oscar for Best Actor (at 29) and a really fabulous actor, but he can’t get a decent role. Since winning the Oscar for “The Piano” in 2002, he’s filmed just two movies. In “The Village,” he’s a mentally-challenged murderer, and in this one, he’s a mentally-challenged soldier. And even though the guy can act circles around Keanu Reeves, he doesn’t quite look like Keanu Reeves. So, while Keanu is playing the hero, poor Adrian is playing the fool.
At least he does what he can with every role he plays, including this one. It’s the rest of the film that doesn’t work.
During the first Gulf War, Jack Starks took a bullet to the head from a gun-toting Iraqi kid. He’s given a Bronze Star and sent home, but has a strange form of amnesia. Walking along a snowy road in Vermont one day, he accepts a ride then ends up wounded and framed for the murder of a police officer. Sent to a hospital for the criminally insane, Starks is treated by Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), who has a Dr. Mengele-style habit of putting patients into straightjackets, pumping them full of drugs then stashing them into a morgue drawer.
To his befuddled horror, Starks suffers that fate, again and again. But soon, he realizes that he is traveling through time, 15 years into the future. Every time he is put into the drawer, he goes to the same place, in the year 2007, and runs into an old acquaintance named Jackie Pride (Keira Knightley). Jack met Jackie years ago on that Vermont road, when she was just a little girl. He helped her stoned mother (Kelly Lynch) start her car, just prior to the murder that sent him to the mental institution.
Jackie is all grown up now and works as a waitress, but she’s a miserable, chain-smoking alcoholic. She accepts Jack’s explanation, with some reluctance, and soon begins helping him work the angles as he travels back and forth in time. In particular, Jack learns from Jackie that he will soon die in that hospital, from a wound to the head. So together, they try and stop his death.
While I’m sure it will find a few fans, “The Jacket” is simply not going to appeal to a huge audience. The premise of the story is bizarre, in a Stanley Kubrick sort of way, but we’re never given enough information to buy into it. For example, the way Jack is framed is totally implausible, because although a cop did die, Jack is also wounded – from behind. And didn’t the CSI people notice the tire tracks of the guy who sped away?
Also, no explanation is ever given for Dr. Becker’s cruel methods, so we’re left wondering not only what he is doing, but why he believes in it – and why his colleagues all follow him so blindly and never turn him into the authorities, despite their misgivings. The film’s jerky jump-shot editing and loud flashbacks are supposed to be edgy, taking us into Jack’s head, but instead have us cringing in disbelief. Strangely reminiscent of last year’s “The Butterfly Effect,” with Ashton Kutcher, it’s just plain bad directing, even with its “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “A Clockwork Orange” agenda.
If there is any cinematic value to “The Jacket,” it comes from Brody, who gives us a sympathetic protagonist. You can’t help but feel sorry for this poor soldier, who is lonely, lost and desperately searching for a shred of kindness from someone – anyone. That he finds it in Jackie is understandable, but tragic. After all, he’s a grown man and she’s just a little girl. But through the magic of time travel, they’re within dating age of one another. How sick is that?
Knightley, on the other hand, simply cannot act, and spends the majority of her screen time either biting her lip or biting her nails. Those who appreciate her physical charms will enjoy several shots of her breasts – both in the tub, when she’s alone, and when she’s making love with Jack. Kristofferson is creepy and believable, and Jennifer Jason Leigh, as the other doctor overseeing Jack, is conflicted yet compassionate. MacKenzie Phillips, as a nurse who shoves Jack in and yanks him out of his drawer, looks so bad she’s a walking advertisement against drug use.
Interestingly enough, “The Jacket” actually offers some positive messages. On the one hand, it gives a negative portrait of the Gulf War and what happens to soldiers after they come home. It also portrays Dr. Becker as a church-going, praying Christian (one scene even takes place outside his church), which many Christians will find incredibly offensive – the usual stereotype of an evil Christian, taken to an extreme.
On the other hand, the film shows the importance of parents on a child’s life. Jack goes back and changes things for Jackie and her mother, by warning them of her impending death. Also, if you interpret the film as a parable, you might uncover an additional message about death and life (which Jack attempts to decipher in a final voiceover, but ends up speaking the usual cinematic psychobabble). The truth that is there, though buried, is that even though we might be in the darkest, most lonely of places, controlled by evil people, there is always hope. We can find meaning and even escape from our fate by changing those little, day-to-day decisions which, despite their seeming triviality, have great impact on our future.
That’s definitely an important, hopeful message, particularly in the wake of multiple Oscars awarded to films like “Million Dollar Baby,” which tell us that the only way out is death. Do you want to sift through the darkness of this movie to find that message? That’s up to you. It’s certainly a very different film from most that you’ll see. But I’m not sure that makes it better.
AUDIENCE: Adults only
- Drugs/Alcohol Content: Extensive smoking and drinking throughout film; misuse of illegal drugs by doctors on patients.
- Language/Profanity: Approximately two dozen obscenities and profanities (including at least 8 f- words).
- Sexual Content/Nudity: Several graphic shots of nudity including one female character in bath (breasts) and two characters making love; doctor discusses a young child who was raped; male character undresses to underwear (side view).
- Violence: Shots of wartime violence including child who shoots adult at point-blank range; jerky shots of violent murder of police officer, also at point-blank range; shots of dead bodies and blood; live human is forced into a straightjacket and shoved into a morgue drawer, again and again, despite great protest; man pulls out IV needle, which induces bleeding; tremendous emotional and psychological abuse by doctors and those in authority.
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