The Jacket is a psychological horror/thriller about a military veteran named Jack (Adrien Brody) who, after suffering a terrible head wound during the Gulf War, returns home to Vermont. On his journey across the state’s highways, he catches a ride from the wrong person and winds up accused of murder. Jack is put in an asylum, and an overzealous doctor (Kris Kristofferson) puts him on a course of experimental drugs, restrains him in a full-body straightjacket, and locks him away in a drawer of the basement morgue for hours at a time. The stressful process somehow sends Jack on a voyage into the future, where he can foresee his death which he believes will happen in four days’ time. He knows it will happen from blunt-force trauma, but he cannot foresee who will be wielding the weapon. The film hinges on the question: Can the woman he meets in the future named Jackie (Keira Knightley) save his life?
Do you see a pattern here — Jack, Jacket, Jackie? Not that it ever pans out, but it’s kind of fun to play connect-the-dots as the movie hurtles forth. In fact, quite a lot about The Jacket never really pans out and it’s so similar to a slew of other (and better) films, it kind of makes you wonder how it ever got green-lit. If you’ve enjoyed movies like Slaughterhouse 5, D.O.A., 12 Monkeys or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, then you probably shouldn’t bother with The Jacket until it comes out on DVD. If, however, you have not seen those movies, The Jacket just might seem fresh and original to you and you’ll be rewarded with some highly-charged performances.
The acting is quite good. Brody is beatific in his tailor-made martyr role (polished to perfection in The Pianist a couple of years back); Knightley finally slips the corset and cleats, and gets to play a real woman; Kristofferson does a highly watchable job as the doctor who may or may not have evil intentions; and the always fantastic but underrated Jennifer Jason Leigh enjoys a meaty role as a doctor torn between her professional and personal obligations.
The film is dark and grainy, lending to the ambiance of the uncertain and shadowy world in which Jack lives. The music is meant to unsettle (mainly with the use of tightly plucked violin strings) but it is so irritating, it could be used to break the will of the most stubborn of POWs. There are a few other unsettling things about the film as well — when Jack and Jackie have sex, the actors are so bony they look like two skeletons knocking together. Not exactly romantic. And even less romantic and certainly more unsettling is a moment in a time-traveling scene in which Jack seeks out the young child Jackie after he’s already slept with the adult Jackie. Ick. I think even Larry Flynt would want to wear a haz-mat suit in preparation for that.
In the end, I have mixed feelings about The Jacket. I didn’t dislike it and I do think the acting is top notch — the entire cast works together like a well-oiled time travel machine. But, unlike the poster’s tagline promises (“Terror has a new name!”), the movie is not scary. It’s tense, and even intense at times, but never terrifying. It’s not original and really doesn’t have an awful lot aside from the acting to recommend it; so in the end, it’s entirely up to you if you want to try The Jacket on for size.
Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson