Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Jacket / **½ ( R )

Jack Starks: Adrien Brody
Jackie: Keira Knightley
Dr. Becker: Kris Kristofferson
Dr. Lorenson: Jennifer Jason Leigh
Dr. Morgan: Jake Broder
Jean: Kelly Lynch
Stranger: Brad Renfro
Nurse Harding: Mackenzie Phillips

Warner Independent Pictures presents a film directed by John Maybury. Written by Massy Tadjedin. Based on the story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco. Running time: 102 minutes. Rated R (for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity).

In my last review, for the film Hostage, I noted that it was a difficult film to review because it contained both admirable aspects and silly detractors. By the time I finished that review, although my ranting lacked my typical passion for the subject matter, the up and down quality of the work gave me plenty to say about it. The Jacket is difficult to review -- not because of an inconsistent nature, but merely because it sits in the heart of mediocrity. It is not a bad movie, nor does it contain anything exceptional about it that would inspire me to recommend it to anyone. I really have very little to say about it either way.

The plot revolves around Gulf War veteran Jack Starks, played by Academy Award winner Adrien Brody (The Pianist). Starks suffers from amnesia due to a head wound he received during the war. After helping a child and her spaced-out mother (Kelly Lynch, Drugstore Cowboy) get their truck running, Starks makes the mistake of hitching a ride from a psychopath (Brad Renfro, Bully). When the two are pulled over by a highway patrolman, the driver shoots the patrolman and Starks is left to take the rap for the crime.

Suddenly, I’m beginning to realize a lot of little small faults in the film. I’m not sure why Starks has lost his memory during the war. I expected this to play into the murder rap somehow, but in the court scene where he is found not guilty by reason of insanity and sentenced to a mental hospital the authorities are quite aware of who he is; and although he cannot clearly recall the man with which he hitched a ride, this has nothing to do with his Gulf War injury and could easily just have been due to the murder incident. There are a good deal of little details that are servants of the plot and the plot alone during this set up, such as why would a man who has trouble remembering his name give away his primary form of identification? A series of poor and unlikely decisions leads to Starks’s internment in the hospital.

With Stark in his proper place to begin his shocking journey we are introduced to two doctors who will play large parts in his fate. Dr. Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh, Rush) is the sympathetic doctor that plays so close to the book she refuses to believe a patient she has been told is crazy. Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson, A Soldier’s Daughter Never Cries) is the mad scientist who must break the laws of morality to reach his well-intentioned if not well-conceived goals. Revealing more of the plot would entail giving away too much of this story that wants to seem more complex than it is.

Brody is the perfect actor for this role. His ability to express pain and yet bring an everyday natural quality to all of his scenes make his character an intriguing hero. Circumstances lead Starks into a tremulous relationship with a waitress named Jackie. Keira Knightley (King Arthur) brings a good raw nature to her character making it plausible that her beauty could be overshadowed by her character’s scarred upbringing. The two make a good couple, and I’d like to see them together in a story with more bite.

The movie has a good pace and atmosphere to it, not too slow or dark. The content reminded me very much of Jacob’s Ladder. It is questionable as to whether Starks is imaging all of this; or possibly, like that other much more frightening film, he is already dead. The film opens with the phrase “The first time I died…” Perhaps it was the only time? Its conclusion takes a much lighter perspective than the dark Ladder.

I suppose the reviewing of such middle of the road films isn’t really the hard thing. This one is somewhat difficult because there is so little of the plot I can actually reveal without giving most of the film’s surprises away, but I know how I felt about it. Eh?! But a friend recently opened up a discussion with me about star ratings and this is what becomes really difficult with a film like this. Do I give it two and a half, or three? I enjoyed watching it. It wasn’t like I felt I had wasted two hours of my life, but I certainly couldn’t say to anyone, “You should see this movie.” Perhaps I should have only given Hostage two stars for its silliness. At least The Jacket isn’t silly. I don’t know about you, though. See it if you want. Now there’s an endorsement. Get that one in the newspaper ads!

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