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The Jacket (A Movie Review)

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

The Jacket


Starring Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Brad Renfro, Daniel Craig, Laura Marano, Jake Broder, Mackenzie Phillips, Jonah Lotan, Fish, Jason Lewis, Stephen Mackintosh, Ian Porter and Nina Summers.

Screenplay by Massy Tadjedin.

Directed by John Maybury.

Distributed by Warner Independent Pictures. 102 minutes. Rated R.

The mind can be the scariest place in the world. Particularly when it goes off the track. Simple decisions and events can become a desperate grasp at a gossamer truth.

Sometimes a corner of it is captured, but sometimes it just slips through the fingers.

Part of the reason that The Jacket is as spooky as it becomes is that it is never certain whether the main character is sane and the people around him are crazy or if it is the other way around. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) certainly seems reasonable, most of the time, though he has been through great trauma which is weighing upon him.

The film starts during the first Gulf war, as Starks survives some horrible battles only to be shot in the head by a small Iraqi boy. He is thought to be dead, but he somehow survives. It is not without a price; his brain has been damaged, and he suffers from blackouts. Nine months later, he is a drifter on the highways of New England. He helps a drunken woman (Kelly Lynch) and her daughter (Laura Marano) fix their broken-down pick-up truck. Later, he hitches a ride with a stranger (Brad Renfro) who is pulled over by a policeman for a traffic violation.

The next thing Starks remembers is waking up in a hospital and being charged with the murder of the officer. He can’t remember exactly what happened, nor can he prove that he had met any of the three people he had encountered on the fateful afternoon. He has disorienting flashes of memories, but he cannot get a handle on them.

Starks is found to be insane and committed to a spooky, surreal old mental hospital called Alpine Grove. The head of the facility, Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson) is conducting a series of ethically ambiguous experiments on sensory deprivation on the patients, and Starks is quickly thrust into the program. He is given a series of drugs, confined by a strait jacket and stuck in a corpse drawer in the hospital’s morgue.

At first Starks panics and is overcome by startling flashes of memory and hallucination. However, as he goes in additional times, he realizes that if he stays calm that he can somehow mentally transport himself fifteen years into the future. There he meets the little girl Jackie again, who has grown into a bitter, alcoholic waitress (Keira Knightley).

While in the future, Starks discovers he is supposed to die four days after the day that he is in the jacket back in 1992. So, his time becomes a desperate attempt to get back into the solitary and find out how to save his own life.

He also learns more about Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), a doctor at the hospital who is against the experiments. Starks gains her trust by helping her connect with an autistic boy that she is treating on the side.

The film never bothers to explain how or why the mixture of the drugs and the confinement give Jack this power of time-travel.

That fits into the basic mood of ambiguity the film has, though. There are several hints that make you wonder whether any of this has happened or if it is all a delusion. For example, it appears that the same child actor who plays the Iraqi boy who originally shot Starks also plays the autistic child that Dr. Lorenson is treating. Since Starks never met the patient, it seems an odd coincidence.

Honestly, The Jacket often doesn’t quite make sense from a straight story-telling point of view. For example, why would finding the girl and her mother be so important towards proving his innocence, when they had seen him hours before the police shooting and would have no real idea what he was doing when the murder happened. Also, would Jackie really know (and state matter-of-factly) the exact date that Starks died, even if it was a national holiday?

However, the plot really isn’t supposed to all add up neatly. The Jacket is a powerful and thoughtful thriller (no that isn’t a contradiction in terms). And through a strange confluence of events, the puzzling sections of the plot just add to the power of disorientation that the film exudes. (3/05)

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2005 All rights reserved. Posted: February 22, 2005.

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