Film reviews and more since 2009

The Jacket (2005) review

Dir. John Maybury

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★½

NOTE: See Claire Husar’s comment beneath this review for confirmation on the introductory story.

I’m going to share a story I’ve never previously shared before. Frankly, it’s one I almost forgot until my girlfriend suggested we watch it. I was about nine-years-old, spending the day at my friend’s house; his uncle was babysitting us for the afternoon. He knew I was deeply into movies, even at a tender age. He was also impressed that I could list, from memory, all the movies that were coming out over the next couple of weekends. He asked if I heard of a movie called The Jacket with Adrien Brody.

I can’t remember what I said, but I remember knowing of the movie from the slightly terrifying commercials I had seen several months prior. It was then he revealed to me that he was a failed screenwriter in Hollywood, and he had originally written a couple dozen-page outline for a movie that eventually became The Jacket. When I got older, I learned that my friend’s uncle, as sweet as he was, was also a crippling alcoholic, prone to multi-day drinking binges and month-long periods where not even his family knew his whereabouts.

I can’t recall the last time I saw my friend’s uncle. Furthermore, I have no idea if his claim was even true, or perhaps invented with the assistance of Jack, Jim, or Johnnie. But I know the first question I’d ask him when/if I ever do.

Why bring up this story in the first place? Well, I don’t know of any former or unwritten reviews nor essays where it would be applicable to do so, and frankly, it’s a far more compelling “what if?” story than anything The Jacket brings to the table over the course of 103 long minutes.

The film opens in 1991 Iraq, in the middle of the Gulf War, where Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) gets shot in the back of his head. Medics presume he’s dead, until he isn’t. “I was 27 the first time I died,” he reveals via voiceover. Fast-forward a year later and he’s alive, albeit with a foggy, unreliable memory.

One lonely winter afternoon, while wandering along a road in Vermont, he sees a little girl and her mother hanging out by their broken down vehicle. He hitchhikes home, but is then apprehended by a police officer in connection with a recent shooting. One thing leads to another and he’s forced into the Alpine Grove Psychiatric Hospital, where he meets “the jacket.”

The titular garment is a straightjacket employed by Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), who fits Jack and then locks him inside a morgue drawer. Doc tells him that the goal of this experiment is to “reset his violent proclivities” under the guise that “you can’t break something that’s already broken.” Inexplicably, Jack starts traveling through time, therein encountering Jackie (Keira Knightley), the now grown-up girl he met on the side of the road 15 years prior. The two become lovers as he tries to save her from heading down a destructive path.

A movie like The Jacket is, in itself, an endurance test. How long can you stay with the story before your mind checks out and is simply watching images on a screen? A trailer and marketing that promised a thriller quickly reveals that its most suspenseful and eerie moments exist upon Jack being inserted into the morgue drawer, where fragmented moments of past, present, and future lives race by in montage, and staccato scratch-effects are played over the sound-track.

What director John Maybury — best known for directing the Pet Shop Boys’ music video for “West End Girls” — and screenwriter Massy Tadjedin manage to accomplish with The Jacket is unending frustration. The film is predicated upon so much hopscotching between timelines and periods in time that the end result is utter disorientation. By the time the film reveals itself to be a sentimental story between two star-crossed lovers, most of us are too checked out to care.

After watching The Jacket, the one thing I took away is that maybe it’s best to leave childhood legends untainted.

NOTE II: As of this writing, The Jacket is available to stream on multiple platforms.

Starring: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Laura Marano, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Brad Renfro, and Daniel Craig. Directed by: John Maybury.

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Claire Husar
Claire Husar
21 days ago

It is true that my (and your friend Jonas’) uncle wrote the screenplay! He ended up selling the story to Sony(?). They apparently changed a lot of stuff but your claim is indeed the truth. I could never sit and finish the movie lol but it’s so cool coming across your review!!

About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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