The first time Jack Starks died, he was twenty-seven years old; a naive soldier in the Gulf War whose compassion resulted in a bullet to the head, and an early ticket home to Vermont. Upon his arrival, he encounters the young Jackie and her drunk/sick mother Jean (Lynch) broken down on the side of a snowy road. Jack helps repair the vehicle, and also makes a friend in the little girl, giving her his dog tags as a memento. As they move on, so does Jack, accepting a ride with a shady drifter (Renfro) who panics when a policeman pulls them over. As shots ring out, Jack loses consciousness, waking to find that he has been charged with killing the policeman. After a trial in which his story is completely dismissed as the fabrications of a delusional mind, Jack is sentenced to serve out his time in an institution for the criminally insane.
Once inside, Jack is introduced to the titular “jacket”, an aged restraint that is a part of the twisted Dr. Becker’s (Kristofferson) radical “treatment” plan that involves a massive dose of drugs, immobilization, and several hours locked in the close confines of a drawer in the hospital’s basement morgue. At first, the procedure terrifies Jack, as the combination of drugs and isolation forces his mind to vividly relive the horrible events of his past. However, something happens when he is left in the morgue drawer for too long, and he somehow finds himself not only free of his restraints, but free of the institution and fourteen years in the future. It is here that he meets a gorgeous-yet-troubled young woman (Knightley), who offers him a warm place to stay. Jack accepts her invitation, but soon discovers that the woman is, in fact, the now very grown-up little girl that he had helped on the side of the road on the day the policeman was murdered. Jack tells her this, but she, of course, doesn’t believe him. After all, she tells him, the body of Jack Starks was found on New Year's Day 1993, under mysterious circumstances.
Back in late December of 1992, Jack is pulled from the drawer by an angry Becker, who berates his assistants for leaving him in for so long. However, Jack wants to go back in so that he can see Jackie again, and figure out the mystery behind his future death.
The Jacket is a solidly entertaining thriller which will probably draw a lot of undeserved Jacob’s Ladder comparisons, when, in fact, this movie has more in common with Twelve Monkeys or The Butterfly Effect; at least thematically. Jack’s physical travels through time are powered by his mind, but, here, it is sort of up to the audience to deduce what is real and what is delusion. Just the same, I found myself questioning Jack’s motives as he gathered information that could have been put to better use, and wondered why he didn’t use one particular nugget of knowledge to simply go back to 1992 and clear himself of the murder that got him incarcerated in the first place. Still, the film plays differently if looked at from different perspectives. If all of the events of the future are simply the stuff of Jack’s delusions then one can deduce that, on a subliminal level, Jack is somehow aware of this, resigned to the fact that he is beyond saving, and, instead, focuses on the romantic notion of reshaping the future of Jackie. It’s a stretch, but it’s a far better conclusion than the one that can be drawn by taking the film at face value, which is why I’m sort of straddling the fence in fully recommending this one.
While Brody is fine as Starks, Knightley suffers from British-Actress-Playing-American syndrome, which is to say she lowers her voice two registers and adopts an accent from Nowhere, U.S.A.; a place where the only inflection is the over annunciation of the letter R, and the woman are an angry lot. Helena Bonham Carter and Kate Winslett’s pseudo-American counterparts are other notable residents. Kristofferson does well with the limited time he is given, as does Jennifer Jason Leigh as Dr. Lorenson, a psychiatrist who befriends Jack, and questions Becker’s methods.
Director John Maybury has chosen a look that lends a sort of gothic element to the film with washed-out colors that evoke a sense of cold and distance in the hospital sequences, while warm tones wash over the scenes that see Jack and Jackie together. All of this is set against a snow-covered backdrop and overcast skies heightening the sense of desperation, especially toward the film’s conclusion. It’s all very attractive and makes for a visually arresting film that captivates in a way that the story itself doesn’t.
The DVD from Warner Bros. features a widescreen, anamorphic transfer of the film, deleted scenes and an alternate ending, as well as a short featurette that focuses on the look of the film and its visual effects, and the film’s theatrical trailer.