Sometimes you stumble across a movie that looks like it's just gonna be more of the same another tired comedy, or testosterone-laden action flick, or self-consciously ponderous psychological drama but, a few minutes into the film, you start to realize, Oh my God this is really freakin' good! John Maybury's grim, surreal thriller The Jacket falls into that category, taking what could have been a standard-issue suspense script and turning it into something wholly unique and wickedly compelling. Adrien Brody (The Pianist, The Village) plays Jack Starks, a Gulf War vet who finds himself imprisoned in a psychiatric hospital and subjected to brutal, puzzling psychological experiments by the facility's creepy administrator (Kris Kristofferson). When he's strapped into a straitjacket, shot up with hallucinogenic drugs, and shoved into a drawer in the morgue to trigger whatever the hell sensory deprivation is supposed to induce, it has the unexpected effect of sending Jack forward in time, to 2007. There he reunites with a woman he had met in "real" time as a little girl (Keira Knightley), who acts as his ally and, unsurprisingly, love interest as he tries to make sense of it all. There's a little Butterfly Effect here mixed with a whole lot of Jacob's Ladder and a splash of Altered States and, if you're going on plot alone, nothing that The Jacket offers is especially new. But Maybury's background is in experimental film, and he teams up with cinematographer Peter Deming (who shot David Lynch's Mulholland Drive and Lost Highway, among other movies) to bring an assured yet refreshingly offbeat visual style to the picture, while Maybury also trusts his audience to tolerate deliberate, cunning ambiguity. It's a genre film made less simple by people expert in the language of cinema, with Jack's hallucinations an unapologetic steal from legendary art-filmmaker Stan Brakhage and the rest of the film a Lynchian noir stew of stolen riffs from every genre imaginable plus a hauntingly eerie score by Brian Eno.
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Carrying The Jacket in almost every frame, Adrien Brody is fantastic having been shot in the head by a frightened Iraqi boy and declared dead two years earlier, Jack suffers from delusions and memory loss. He knows, however, that he's not responsible for the murder that landed him in the loony bin, and he suspects his visits to the future are an opportunity to unravel that mystery. It's a showcase role for the actor, who makes Jack both likable and heroic despite his very real psychological instability. The revelation here, though, is Knightley eyes blackened with smudged shadow, her character is far rougher and more cynical than one would expect from her previous roles in Bend It Like Beckham and Pirates of the Caribbean, and she proves herself to be an actress with some real depth. While their romance feels contrived and may even make the audience squirm a bit (if only for their semi-nude love scene which, given the extreme pale slenderness of the two actors, a colleague of this reviewer described as "two stick-insects mating"), their chemistry is believable, and their scenes together have a surprising edginess. That edginess infuses the entire film, in fact, making this by-the-numbers psychological thriller into something genuinely creepy, involving, and unexpected. Does it all make sense when you pick the plot apart later? Well, no. But the plot holes don't matter while you're watching the film which in itself is the highest of praise. Warner's DVD release of The Jacket offers an excellent anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of a film that varies wildly throughout in contrast, colors, and visual style it all come off beautifully, with fine contrast and good color saturation. The DD 5.1 audio is as good as you'd expect from a new release in other words, very, very good, especially considering that sound is used almost as creatively here as the visuals, particularly during Jack's hallucinatory episodes. This is a film that makes terrific use of a multi-channel system. There are two featurettes on board, "The Jacket: Project History and Deleted Scenes" (28 min.), which covers the genesis of the film with producers Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney approaching Maybury and offering him a chance to make a mainstream Hollywood picture, much chat about the making of the film, and several deleted scenes (including alternate endings) and "The Look of the Jacket," (9 min.), a mildly interesting talking-heads feature with all those involved in the visual components of the film yakking about it. Theatrical trailer, keep-case.