Stay tuned throughout September for nuttiness and zaniness of all varieties - click here for the full lineup, and click here for prior entries (which won't do you much good today, what with this being the first - madness!).
Welcome to the first of two entries I’ll be making for the 30 Days of Crazy event.
For my first film, I’m taking a look at 2005’s The Jacket starring Adrien Brody. Recently, Mr. Brody has become something of a Scream King with his turns in Predators, Splice, and Dario Argento’s Giallo. If you look back over his career, he’s always chosen strange little genre films, like appearing as a scientist in Mario Van Peebles Solo. Though he cemented himself in the public consciousness with Polanski’s The Pianist (2002), only three years removed from his Academy Award winning turn as the tragic ivory tickler, he took on the starring role in first time feature director Maybury’s thriller.
The Jacket stars Brody as Jack Starks, a Gulf War veteran who is sent to an asylum after being accused of shooting a police officer. His doctor, Thomas Becker (Kris Kristofferson), begins to use an experimental treatment on Starks, putting him in a straightjacket and closing him inside a morgue drawer. Starks begins to have experiences that he believes are travels fifteen years into the future to 2007 where he learns of his own impending death in four days. He also meets a girl, Jackie Price (Keira Knightly), whose past he affected when she was a child, and he uses the experiences going back and forth through time to change her future for the better.
The real question when it comes to The Jacket is what, as a viewer, you want to accept as real. Brody’s character at no time seems stable, and the film's events can be taken two ways. Either Jack Starks, an already damaged war veteran and possible cop killer, had a series of visions where he absolves himself of past wrongs by saving Jackie or Starks, an innocent man, traveled through time and did a good deed before he died. So either he’s crazy as a bedbug or the human equivalent of the letter in The Lake House. Personally, I could see it both ways. The hopeless romantic in me wanted his quest to rectify the bad things that happened in Jackie‘s life, but my cynical side kicked in, and I left the film feeling sorry for Starks as he spent his last few moments with his mind escaping into a fantasy world.
Speaking of crazy, one of the most fascinating things I learned while looking into The Jacket was the connection to Jack London. I know. Right now, you’re probably saying, “That Jack London?” Yep, Mr. Jack “White Fang, Call of the Wild, boring your ass to death in high school” London apparently wrote some books that didn’t have even a little Yukon in them. His 1915 novel The Star Rover, known in the United Kingdom as The Jacket, was a fictionalized account of San Quentin inmate Ed Morrell’s experiences in solitary confinement. In London’s book, his hero is subjected to a torturous jacket while he is in jail, but when he enters a trancelike state, he can travel across space and time. Though three writers are credited with the film, London’s name was not mentioned. However in interviews promoting the film director Maybury credited the book as inspiration.
For a first feature film, Maybury, who had previously directed short films and videos for Cindy Lauper and Sinead O’Connor, puts in an impressive effort packing the film with visually appealing shots. He also gets some solid performances from his actors. Adrien Brody is the rock that the film is built on. I am generally interested in him as an actor, and he did not disappoint, plumbing the film’s emotional depths for all they were worth. He even went method on the role insisting that Maybury lock him in just like his character and film him with a locked camera. The result is right in the film. When an emotionally raw Starks loses it, you are actually witnessing the real breakdown that Brody had while dedicating himself to the role. Veteran actor Kristofferson provides some great menace as the diabolical doctor who puts the treatment to Starks, and Knightly performs well as the damsel in distress including one of the better American accents that I’ve ever heard her perform.
The Jacket did have a number of weaknesses, and one of them is that I only had three actors to bother mentioning in the whole of the film. Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Brad Renfro, Daniel Craig, Mackenzie Phillips, and Jason Lewis all make appearances, but none of them stuck out in my mind at all, and quite a few of them had the potential to make more of their brief appearances. I was also quite hard to follow at times, and I occasionally needed a diagram to help me figure out what was happening. It added to the crazed atmosphere, but it did little to allow overall enjoyment. Altogether, The Jacket is a manic experience that lives up to being in a marathon of crazy films. It dabbles in interesting concepts, but it never can decide what it exactly feels about them. It wasn’t full of enough problems to put me in a straightjacket, but I was sure glad I had blog therapy to look forward to after.
Tomorrow: We'll catch up with both Ivan of Thrilling Days of Yesteryear and his journey down the Shock Corridor and count to Se7en with Detailed Criticism's Sebastian.