EvidenceProf Blog

Editor: Colin Miller
Univ. of South Carolina School of Law

Thursday, October 31, 2013

EvidenceProf Blog's 7th Annual Halloween Movie Pick: John Maybury's The Jacket

Again, I'm digging back to my days as a film critic to pull out a horror movie review. I would only mildly recommend the movie, The Jacket, but I would highly recommend its source material, Jack London's The Star Rover. You can read it for free by clicking here.

The Jacket

(Warner Home Video, 6.21.2005)

Loosely based upon Jack London's final novel, "The Star Rover," The Jacket similarly focuses on an incarcerated alleged murderer able to time-travel while in straitjacketed solitary confinement. Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) awakens with memory deficiencies after his apparent Desert Storm death and is subjected to mental asylum experimentation. Cocktails of anti-psychotic drugs and morgue drawer immobilization revive violent flashes of his past, while enabling him to experience -- and possibly alter -- the future.

The opening war-time destruction montage and mentions of Gulf War syndrome suggest a possible critique of war's conscience-crippling effects, while Starks' "treatment" ostensibly condemns the penal and/or medical systems. Which interpretation you get behind depends on whether you perceive Starks' apparition as channeling Jacob Marley or Jacob's Ladder (alternate endings included on the DVD imply the latter). Regrettably, Massy Tajedin's script, an uncomfortable amalgam of the time-travel, horror, mystery, and amnesiac thriller genres, is spread too thin in the film's 103-minute running time. The convenient carpe diem resolution betrays the film preceding it and relies too heavily on influences such as 12 Monkeys and La Jetee.

In this otherwise deliberately paced film, director John Maybury (Love is the Devil) displays an affinity for rapidly cut montages and close-ups of mouths and eyes. He seems particularly fixated on the eyes, with Starks' past jarringly projected on his red lidded pupils, an effect owing to the final shot in Robert Altman's McCabe & Mrs. Miller. Like Steven Soderbergh (1 of 19 credited producers), Maybury contrasts color schemes to distinguish the bleached blue and gray asylum from the supersaturated future. Frequent David Lynch cinematographer Peter Deming's widescreen compositions of snowy (Canada and Scotland, substituting for) Vermont nicely contrast with Brody's claustrophobia and Brian Eno's jangling score compliments Starks' asphyxiated disorientation.

Brody meshes his understated Pianist shell-shock with flashes of the machine gun manic of his disgruntled war photographer in Harrison's Flowers to flesh out another character with war's imprint ingrained on his spindly frame. Keira Knightley (the upcoming Domino) isn't quite believable as a damaged waitress and Starks' love interest.

A beady-eyed Kris Kristofferson distracts as the underdeveloped "mad doctor," while the usually reliable Jennifer Jason Leigh is relegated to a tangential subplot. A veteran of Maybury's Love is the Devil, Daniel Craig briefly lends some needed charismatic humor/danger to the proceedings as one of Brody's fellow inmates. In addition, Maybury makes the titular jacket its own character, its cocoon of urine and blood constituting a straitjacket's wet dream of itself.

The film is presented in sharply transferred 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, with Dolby Digital 5.1 amply supporting the frequent layering of sound. The 30-minute "The Jacket: Project History and Deleted Scenes" helpfully frames deleted scenes -- including an extended Brody-Knightley love scene -- with cast and crew interviews, while the brief "The Look of The Jacket" focuses primarily on the film's ocular effects and its debt to both Altman and master experimental filmmaker, Stan Brakhage. -- Colin Miller



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