The Jacket

21/05/2005

Ben Lee went to see The Jacket


The Jacket - Film on LeftLionThe Jacket has been pushed by its director as a ‘genre-less’ film. But try telling that to the distributors. Anyone who’s seen the loud trailer or the spooky posters will tell you that The Jacket must be a horror film.

Even the stupid tag-line ‘Terror has a new name’ leads you to this much-maligned genre. The director, a British avant-garde experimental artist called John Maybury, has already hit out at the mis-marketing of the film and The Jacket duly flopped in the States. So, what is The Jacket?

Iraq, 1991. Soldier Jack Starks (Oscar winner Adrien Brody) attempts to help a kid amid the gulf war but gets shot in the head. He manages to survive and a year later we find him in snowy America, helping a girl and her mother get their car started. He gives the girl his dog tags as a gesture and carries on walking. He gets picked up by a driver who then kills a cop and frames Starks fro the crime. Sent to an institution for the criminally insane, he begins an experimental treatment. Tied up in a straight jacket in left in a dark morgue drawer Starks is initially terrified. But he soon discovers The Jacket leads him to surprising places.

Is The Jacket genre-less? Well not really. It belongs to a sub-genre typified by films such as Vanilla Sky and Donnie Darko. The fractured reality psychodramas where no-ones really sure of something’s happening, or whether its in someone’s head, or if its another reality etc. The kind of plot which ten years ago would have been relegated to purely trashy American soap operas. It has elements of science fiction, thriller, horror, romance and drama and is plenty ambitious.

It may have a familiar taste to it all but The Jacket is undeniably compelling. The opening scene is sure to be among the most stunning of the year. Infra-red shots of Iraqi explosions married with tender music makes for a powerful opener. Its clear from the outset that this isn’t the horror film the ads had promised. It’s got one of those reliably twisty-turny plots which demands attention. Jack’s visits to The Jacket lead him into a not too distant future where he meets alcoholic waitress Jackie, played by dependable waif Keira Knightley. I won’t reveal too much more (even though the trailers do) because these films work on the element of surprise.

The direction of John Maybury lends the film an odd, visually compelling feel. In fact in the first 30/40 minutes or so the film is so flawless that it’s kinda frustrating when it suddenly becomes a little too conventional. The romance is sorely underdeveloped and its just unbelievable that Jackie would believe Jack so quickly. Anyway, these worries soon dissipate as the film gathers momentum to a surprisingly touching and whimsical finale. There are tense moments on the way and claustrophobes will be hugely uncomfortable during Jack’s visits to The Jacket.

The acting is universally excellent. Brody’s face is so expressionate and brilliantly fraught that Maybury achieves most of the tension merely from close-ups. Knightley deserves kudos for picking such an unlikely role, trying on a yank accent also, and almost pulls it off. Together they look like a couple straight out of a designer ad. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Daniel Craig and Kris Kristofferson all deliver tremendous support, giving the film an extra weight from the sheer quality of acting.

The ending will surely leave you with plenty to discuss. The film is bravely ambiguous and doesn’t patronise the audience with obvious clues or provide one definite theory on what’s happened. The Jacket will disappoint many searching for a gory horror movie but anyone with an open mind will surely find something to enjoy from this. It’s an involving, affecting and intriguing movie which manages to bring something new to a familiar subgenre.

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