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With: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Brad Renfro, Daniel Craig, Jason Lewis
Written by: Massy Tadjedin, based on a story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco
Directed by: John Maybury
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and brief sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 102
Date: 01/23/2005

The Jacket (2005)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Anything But Straight 'Jacket'

By Rob Blackwelder, SPLICEDwire

"I was 27 years old the first time I died," says the asylum-committedGulf War veteran Jack Starks (AdrienBrody) in the opening moments of The Jacket. This eerieintroduction accompanies a disorienting flashback in which Jack is shotin the head, point-blank, by a frightened Iraqi boy he was trying todisarm in 1991.

Revived after being declared dead, two years later the lanky, bewildered Jack suffers from delusions and retrograde amnesia -- which is why, he's told, he doesn't remember killing the Vermont state trooper whose murder put him away in the nut house. What Jack does remember is hitchhiking on a winter's day after returning from the war, giving his dog tags to a little girl whose drunken, angry mother had run their truck off the road, then thumbing a lift with a redneck psychopath who shot a cop. But none of these people are real, Jack is told.

By 10 minutes into this film, when Jack arrives at a foreboding psychiatric prison (fluxing fluorescents lights, frequent screams, abusive orderlies), director John Maybury (Love Is The Devil) has drawn the world in on Jack so effectively that it's almost a relief when his gruff, sadistic doctor (Kris Kristofferson) takes him to the basement for "reprogramming" experiments -- almost.

But Maybury is just getting warmed up. Bound in a straight jacket, injected with a banned psychotropic, and rolled into a claustrophobic body drawer in the morgue once a day, Jack is left alone in the dark with his delusions, nightmares and fantasies -- which quite unexpectedly congeal into visions of a future where Jack Starks had died for the second time, mysteriously, in this very asylum soon after he arrived.

Deftly structured in a way that makes these trips into Jack's head (or are they something more?) seem at once perplexing and perfectly down-to-earth, The Jacket begins to slowly reveal its secrets when Jack awakens in the outside world and latches on to a young but case-hardened young diner waitress (Keira Knightley). She helps him investigate his own death -- and is connected to his fate far more than either of them realize at first.

The story that unfolds as a result could have become cerebral junk-food, like last year's logic-deficient time-travel/alternative-reality B-movie The Butterfly Effect. But Maybury, whose background in experimental film heavily influences his cinematic style, keeps The Jacket grounded in the familiar while its sense of reality remains shrewdly vague.

Any plot points that can be questioned or doubted aren't so much holes as openings for the audience's interpretation (Maybury subtly hints at some possible answers), and each time Jack goes back in "the box," he learns to better control his visions. The imagery of scenes in the fantasy/future become more crisp and clear. (When a possible whistle-blower offers to save Jack from his torture, he ominously replies, "I'm not sure I want them to stop.")

But while the storyline may expose a handful of small loopholes as events in both realities begin to seemingly influence one another, the complex lead performances are impeccable. Brody (The Pianist, The Village) embodies Jack's psychological instability in slightly nervous body language and slightly darting eyes, but without ever quite seeming vulnerable or dangerous. Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean) is a revelation, wrapping her secretly soft and emotionally susceptible character deep inside a gruff, feral, defensive shell and kohl-darkened eyes. This young actress is a major talent.

There is a romance between them that feels obligatory, and inappropriate for reasons I cannot reveal without giving away plot points. There's also one performance that doesn't seem to fit, surprisingly from the otherwise-reliable Jennifer Jason Leigh, who doesn't seem credible as a prison shrink because she plays the part with a shrinking-violet persona. But her character also proves that the prison doctors are anything but black-and-white when it comes to ethics, which gives The Jacket an extra edge that helps fuel the feeling that the film could suddenly change direction at any moment.

While the movie doesn't keep you on the edge of your seat, this unpredictability, along with Maybury's creative filmmaking, and the sublime acting by Brody and Knightley, are more than enough to keep you spellbound.

DVD Details: Extras on Warner Home Video's new DVD include: project history and deleted scenes, a special effects featurette, a trailer, optional English, French and Spanish subtitles and an optional French language track.{subid}&url=hitlist.asp?searchfield=marvel
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