This meta-physical/gothic thriller takes on the themes of life and the afterlife, time travel, and one's ability to change the course of human events. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is a Marine in the Gulf War who receives a head wound that almost kills him. The medics are ready to tag and bag him when they notice that there is still some life in him. "That was the first time I died," the voiceover tells us.

Released from the service, Jack wanders the country, hitchhiking and alone. He's not sure who or where he is much of the time, but he's otherwise lucid and quite sane. He's a holy innocent, a simple man without guile who is hampered by an inability to remember clearly. Two events set the course of his life. When he finds a drunken woman and her small daughter in need of assistance, he performs an act of kindness that endears him to the girl. This brief encounter launches one of several intersecting trajectories.

Adrien Brody is Jack Starks, a man wrongly accused of murder

Adrien Brody is Jack Starks, a man wrongly accused of murder

In another hitchhiking encounter, he hooks up with a desperado and ends up taking the fall for a murder. Jack knows he didn't do the killing, but he blacked out during the crime and was found there, unconscious. He has no firm memory of the killing. He's not even aware that the other man was there so he cannot make a case for his innocence. His general disorientation convinces the jury that he is not guilty by reason of insanity and the judge sentences him to a mental facility for the criminally insane.

Dr. Becker (Kristofferson) is the worst kind of antagonist. He's not really out to do harm. He's a mediocre doctor who feels that he is helping his patients by loading them up with drugs, strapping them into a straight jacket, and subjecting them to the most inhumane and low-tech sensory deprivation. He simply files them away in a morgue drawer for a while. The idea is to reprogram them. Convinced that his patients are delusional killers, he feels free to try anything that might get results. He's a bit like some of the more deluded torturers of the Spanish Inquisition, who believed they were helping the Jews and heretics by purging them of their sins. Dr. Becker suffers from a lack of peer review. His methods have been tried and denounced decades earlier. Perhaps he's just ignorant, or perhaps he is deluded into thinking he has a better handle on the techniques. In any case, there is no organization or hierarchy to stop him. He has the freedom to use whatever drugs and therapy he can dream up.

Jack's punishment is cruel and unusual, to say the least

Jack's punishment is cruel and unusual, to say the least

Jack's sojourn in the mental hospital is truly Kafkaesque. He's there because he is supposed to be delusional. He is loaded up with drugs, as are the other patients, to keep him calm. Calm seems to be equated with well at Alpine Grove Hospital. Because he is too drug-befuddled to make the case for his sanity and innocence, he is written off as delusional. If he insists that he is sane sane, well, that just shows you how delusional he is.

Article continues below

Brody is a fine actor and he plays his part convincingly. He lacks real heat, though. In a part like this, it would be easy to chew up the scenery and become parody and caricature. Brody errs on the side of caution, perhaps too much so. He does the befuddled part very well, and his brief scenes with the little girl and her mother are quite engaging. What is lacking for most of the film is passion. We see bits and pieces of it, but for a man who is living in torment, Brody is a bit subdued.

Jennifer Jason Leigh is Dr. Lorenson, Dr. Becker's subordinate at the hospital. At first she approaches Jack as she would any other delusional patient. She is calm and assuring, but her assumption that Jack is a psychotic murderer makes her as impenetrable as a wall of glass. The chemistry between Jack and Dr. Lorenson is compelling as she begins to suspect that Jack is more than he seems to be. Working under the constraints of hospital protocol and Dr. Becker's malevolent presence, she cautiously begins to do what psychiatrists are supposed to do: she begins to listen. This is a refreshing change. Most of the patients are immediately subjected to treatment based on the findings of the court. Diagnosis seems to be an overlooked technicality.

Keira Knightley plays Jackie, whom Jack meets on a time travel trip

Keira Knightley plays Jackie, whom Jack meets on a time travel trip

While imprisoned in the morgue drawer, Jack begins to move in and out not only of consciousness, but of time and space. He begins to travel back and forth from the present, to the future and back, with flashes of his violent past in the Gulf. This is tricky territory for a director, and Maybury pulls it off pretty well. The script is generally up to the task, but we get the feeling that the editor couldn't quite coax out the promise of the film. Dr. Lorenson's journey from condescension to belief in Jack comes about rather abruptly and we wish that we could have seen more nuance, especially with an actress as accomplished as Leigh.

While sojourning in the future, Jack runs across the little girl as a young woman who has made some very poor choices in her life. Stuck in a dead end job, and drinking like her deceased mother, Jackie (Knightley) is on the road to oblivion. Jackie smokes like a chimney, wears too much makeup and comes across like a prematurely cynical loser. This is not the enchanting little creature that Jack remembers from his Good Samaritan experience. But the attachment that he felt for her when she was a little girl is still intact, and it is reciprocated. It's an awkward plot device. Jackie believes that Jack is dead and she too quickly accepts his presence in her life. Soon they are co-conspirators and lovers.

Article continues below
It's a long, strange trip into the future for Jack and Jackie

It's a long, strange trip into the future for Jack and Jackie

Here the film takes the most risk, and again, it does so pretty well. Jack is now moving freely in and out of time. As much as he fears and loathes the morgue drawer, he is compelled to return there. It is during these periods of torment and isolation that he is freed from the constraints of the present to wander through time.

In terms of structure, The Jacket is reminiscent of Memento, but the driving force is not just loss of memory—it is a metaphysical exploration of the meaning of time. The tortured protagonist of Memento could count on the fact of time. Things happened from hour to hour and day to day in a linear structure. His problem was that he kept forgetting. Jack Starks cannot rely on the predictability of time. Time is a construct in Jack's world. It may exist—and then again, it may not.

The Jacket is a solid attempt to wrestle with some big questions. The cast is exemplary and the premise and script are well reasoned and artful. Somehow, though, it doesn't quite come together as promised.

Talk About It

Discussion starters
  1. Why is the idea of living outside of time so compelling in art, literature and film?

  2. If we were given a chance to revisit the past, would we make any better choices than we did originally?

  3. Once a person is convicted of a crime or judged insane, how might they convince others of their innocence and sanity?

  4. What are the moral issues that guide peer review and professional ethics? When is it morally right to ignore or go against one's superiors?

The Family Corner

For parents to consider

The Jacket is rated R for violence, language and some brief sexuality/nudity. The violence includes gunshot wounds. There is a brief but fairly erotic bedroom scene with nudity. The Jacket is inappropriate for teenagers. Take the R-rating seriously.

What Other Critics Are Saying
compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet
from Film Forum, 03/10/05

The Jacket, the new psychological thriller from director John Maybury, stars Adrien Brody, who has unfortunately become more famous for his Oscar-night kissing shenanigans than for the role that won him an Oscar. Brody plays a military veteran so seriously damaged that he can't even take one day at a time. That's because time has become jumbled for him, and he's zigzagging between past, present, and future, trying to make the right moves in order to save the lives of his loved ones.

Article continues below

The film thrills viewers with nerve-wracking twists that involve amnesia, experimental drugs, and something called a "body drawer." And then there's another volatile element capable of causing great civil unrest … Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean).

Stefan Ulstein (Christianity Today Movies) says, "The Jacket is a solid attempt to wrestle with some big questions. The cast is exemplary and the premise and script are well reasoned and artful. Somehow, though, it doesn't quite come together as promised."

Adam R. Holz (Plugged In) says that the time-travel element makes the film confusing. "The film's confusion of genres goes too far and makes for an uneven ride at best. It's as if The Jacket can't decide what it really wants to be when it grows up, and as a result it ends up underperforming across the board. What is clear, however, is the film's harsh, R-rated content. The ending's momentary glimmer of light and meaning simply cannot penetrate such a bleak and hopeless atmosphere."

Annabelle Robertson (Crosswalk) says it offers "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 … 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. You might [also] uncover an additional message about death and life … that even though we might be in the darkest, most lonely of places, controlled by evil people, there is always hope."

Mainstream critics are almost evenly split on The Jacket.

The Jacket
Our Rating
2½ Stars - Fair
Average Rating
(not rated yet)ADD YOURSHelp
Mpaa Rating
R (for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity)
Directed By
Matt Roshkow
Run Time
10 minutes
Maddie Corman, Stefanie Nava, Alysia Reiner
Browse All Movie Reviews By: