The psychological thriller The Jacket is a hard one to pin down. Part The Butterfly Effect, part One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, with a little Charlie Kaufman/M. Night Shyamalan-esque mind-bending thrown in for fun, the film gets muddled at times. But the engaging performances, especially by Adrien Brody, are enough to keep you intrigued.
In trying to piece this movie together, we know that Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (Brody) suffers from amnesia after surviving a combat-related gunshot wound to the head. If that wasn't enough, once he is back stateside, he is soon accused of murdering a police officer although he has no recollection of the crime. It keeps getting worse for the guy. Jack is then committed to a mental institution for the criminally insane and is placed under the care of the unconventional and somewhat twisted Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson). The doc puts Jack on a controversial treatment regimen in which he is injected with experimental drugs, confined in a straight-jacket, and locked for extended periods in the body drawer of the basement morgue. Well, isn't that lovely? Oddly enough, in this drugged, disoriented and claustrophobic state, Jack has an epiphany. He is somehow propelled into the future, where he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), and discovers that he died soon after being admitted to the mental institution. Together, they search for a way to save him from his fate. Does that make any sense?
You would think after making something as harrowing as The Pianist or even psychologically twisty as The Village, Oscar winner Adrien Brody would want to do something light and fun. But no. He apparently is up for more excruciating torment, this time getting shot in the head and then being wrapped in a straight-jacket and locked in a confined space for hours on end. The thing is, Brody is really, really good at portraying tortured characters. Maybe it has something to do with his offbeat, angular good looks, sad eyes, and his quietly determined demeanor. In any event, Brody's Jack is instantly likeable. Rather than pitying him for all the horrifying things he goes through, somehow you know nothing can get him down, that he is going to find the answers. As his cohort and love interest, the British Knightley dons an American accent and aptly plays the equally tortured Jackie, who's experienced her fair share of hurt. Kristofferson, too, handles his somewhat misguided character with composure. And Jennifer Jason Leigh comes out of hiding to turn in a quiet and moving performance as a kindly doctor trying to help Jack, but has her own issues.
Auteur director John Maybury (Love Is the Devil), who wanted to treat the film as an experimental avant-garde piece, says it succinctly, ''What interested me about [The Jacket] is that it's kind of genre-less I hope no one comes up with a label for it because for me, the fact that it slips between the cracks of various genres makes it interesting as an experience.'' While this sounds a tad pretentious, Maybury still accomplishes his mission. One would be hard pressed to find anything formulaic in The Jacket, even if you can spot elements from other psychological, time-altering, mind-bending films. Yet, with this concept comes a problem of aesthetics and coherency. The film jumps around a lot and oftentimes it is hard to follow the chain of events. Not to mention there's a fair bit of having to suspend your disbelief. But The Jacket will still grab you by the throat emotionally--and that's really all that's needed to keep you in your seat.
The Jacket is a horrifyingly strange and cluttered but innately fascinating movie-going experience, especially with Adrien Brody's layered performance at the helm.