3 stars (out of 4)
"The Jacket" is a gripping drama that will leave thoughtful cinemagoers wrestling with basic Big Questions: If you knew when you were going to die, what would you do? Even more interesting, if you knew when you were going to die but that your death would serve a greater good, what choices would you make?
Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (Adrien Brody), after suffering a gunshot wound to the head in combat, tells us in voiceover, "I was 27 years old the first time I died." This is a rather obvious way of setting up a mystery, one that "The Jacket" unravels with appealing grace and style. What sounds formulaic is elevated by strong performancesparticularly from Brodyinteresting plot revelations and an approach that forces you to look into your soul, one of the scariest places for many of us.
Starks returns to his Vermont hometown suffering from amnesia and encounters a drunk, drugged-out woman named Jean (Kelly Lynch) and her young daughter, Jackie. He gives Jackie his dog tags, then hitches a ride from a guy who kills a cop. Starks takes the fall for the murder, is found not guilty by reason of insanity and winds up in a hospital for the criminally insane, in the clutches of Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson).
Becker is trying a sensory deprivation therapy that consists of putting a patient in a full-body restraining jacket and locking them in a body drawer (like those at the morgue) for extended time periods. Starks freaks out, begins to have flashbacks, then finds that he can see into the future, where he meets grown-up Jackie (Keira Knightley) and discovers that he is going to die in four days. He wants to determine why and how, for the obvious reasons, and our adventure begins.
Along the way, Starks finds out that not everyone is as they seem, a lesson we could all learn from "The Jacket." At this point, you'll groan a bit and say to yourself, "Aw, man, this is just 'Memento' with a dumber, skinny guy." Just be patient.
Brody turns in another fine performance; you might not realize it's as good as it is until you find yourself wanting to give him a good shake and say "Snap out of it!" His understated style takes you inside. You aren't just watching him, you're with him. Knightley's performance won't inspire any chatter about misguided Oscar nominations, but she's pretty good, as are the other actors, particularly Lynch.
You wonder what notions underlie characters in a film. Why make Starks a soldier? There are lots of ways to get someone shot in the head. But in combat, soldiers wrestle day in and day out with the big question posed by "The Jacket." A combat soldier doesn't know when he or she is going to die, but in hostile territory, every day, there's a possibility that today will be the day.
Knowing that, soldiers wake up and go to work, capable of acts of great heroism. Starks, then, has to make his own call on The Day.In a time when so many contemporary films are so predictable, you might think you know what he's going to doyou don't. But even if you figure it out, you'll find it was still worth making the journey with Starks.
Directed by John Maybury; written by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco; photographed by Peter Deming; edited by Emma Hickox; music by Brian Eno; produced by Peter Guber, George Clooney, Steven Soderbergh. A Warner Independent Pictures and Mandalay Pictures presentation; opens Friday. Running time: 1:43. Rated R (violence, language and brief nudity).
Jack Starks - Adrien Brody
Jackie - Keira Knightley
Dr. Becker - Kris Kristofferson
Dr. Lorenson - Jennifer JasonLeigh
Lt. Roget - Wayne Morris
Jean - Kelly Lynch