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Old 06-12-2005, 12:38 AM
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Default Jacket, The




Reviewer: Rhett
Review Date: June 11, 2005

Released by: Warner Brothers
Release date: 6/21/2005
MSRP: $24.98
Region 1, NTSC
Widescreen 2.35:1 | 16x9: Yes



inline ImageThe most tired of all films these days seems to be the psychological thriller, where the protagonist must piece together jumbled plot information to come to the shocking conclusion that a.) s/he is really dead, b.) it was all in his/her mind, or c.) it was all a dream. However derivative these stories are from stories written by eight year olds, directors like M. Night Shyamalan, Adrian Lyne, and Christopher Nolan, to name a few, have managed to make these stories seem fresh. But with every fresh success comes a legion of inferior imitators, and last year we were given middling psychological gimmickry like The Machinist and Secret Window. The Jacket also looked to be another derivative mental case picture, but considering its brief and unsuccessful limited run, it was out of theaters before most people had a chance to see it. Warner is trying its luck again on DVD, so strap in and let’s try this jacket on for size.

The Story

inline Image“My name is Lester Burnham. This is my neighborhood; this is my street; this is my life. I am 42 years old; in less than a year I will be dead. Of course I don't know that yet, and in a way, I am dead already.” So the film begins, with Lester (Kevin Spacey) narrating his life from beyond the grave, where he realizes the mystery behind his death, and how it came to be. During the mental journey however, Lester also realizes the lives he’s impacted, and how his little changes of character changed the trajectory of the experiences of others, for good or bad. This is the story of his life.

inline ImageI’ve just described the plot for American Beauty, but it may as well be for The Jacket as well. The Jacket is of course more than that, but invariably sets itself up for such comparison with its pompous opening sentence: “I was twenty seven years old the first time I died.” After the turgid narration, the film moves to Iraq, 1991, during the Gulf War, where Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is shot down by a civilian during the perils of war. He seems to die instantly, but on the morgue table his eyes begin to twitch and he suddenly comes back to life. Or does he? The film then jumps forward a year over the Atlantic to Vermont, where Starks helps a mother and her young daughter with car trouble. The daughter is infatuated with the war veteran, and asks to keep his dog tags. He obliges, and is picked up by a driver, and the two of them eventually end up shooting down a police officer. Or do they?

inline ImageStarks is institutionalized based on the murder, and it is in the institution that he gains the ability to see into the future. Or does he? A burned out hippy doctor, Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), uses Starker as his guinea pig for a radical new therapy that involves sedating the patient, strapping him in a straight jacket, and locking him in a drawer for elongated periods of time. During these periods the patient is supposed to sort out his mental problems, and Starks does so, but only he does so transposing himself into the year 2007. Or does he? In the future he meets the dog tag girl, now grown up and played by Keira Knightley, who seems to have chosen the same burnout path as her mother. Or does he? He learns from her that he is to die in four days, and the two band together to use the future to figure out his past before his death in the present. But since this is all happening within the jacket, is it really happening at all?

inline ImageThe Jacket is a needlessly complex film, blurring the lines of space, time, reality and ultimately, logic. The movie spends the vast majority of its 100-minute runtime complicating its story with characters and red herrings, all in the guise of fleshing out a twist ending. We have a doctor with a shady past, a previous patient with a troubling rape history, another patient who poses a physical threat to Starks, a female doctor (Jennifer Jason Leigh in a nowhere role) dealing with a troubled seizure patient and the mystery behind Starks’ committal that all weigh into the outcome of the film, but ultimately amount to nothing. For in the end, the film becomes little more than a love story between Brody and Knightley. The psychological twist ending would have been cliché, and thankfully director John Maybury avoids that, but when the conclusion finally comes, one has to wonder if the whole journey was worth it.

inline ImageIf this is a love story, then why complicate it with crazy doctors, unsolved crimes and psychological mind games? Because of all this tacked on complexity and conflict, the film’s best scenes – those between Brody and Knightley – become dwarfed in back story. Instead of just trying to shape her life for the better, Brody forces Knightley on side quests behind his death, his doctor’s past, and the medical history of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s patient. It is all filler, straight jacketing the film into a needless stage of weighty complexity. It is a shame really, because Brody and Knightley are very good together in their brief scenes together. Both seem cut from a world of disillusion and loss, be it through mistreatment in the army to mistreatment in the home. Underscored by Brian Eno’s tender score, their scenes are infused with the emotional weight of those who have lost.

inline ImageBut then the film jumps back into the present, then the past, the drawer and then the institution, dropping loaded plot points without focus or reason. John Maybury leads the audience away from the love story on a string of clues that end up going nowhere, for it never becomes clear whether everything is in Brody’s mind, or if Brody can travel through time, or whether Brody’s murder case has ever been cleared. Screenwriter Massy Tadjedin mentions in the supplements how the initial script was 160 pages, with enough stories to amass five scripts, and she wasn’t lying. This is a real mess of a movie, so unfocused in its subject matter that even the love scenes don’t ring with the power they should. Maybury’s arty visual approach, Eno’s music and strong performances all can’t overcome the meandering complexity of the script. A valiant effort, given the script, but in the end, The Jacket just doesn’t hack it!

Image Quality

Drawing from avant garde shorts and silent films, John Maybury has crafted a film with experimental visual polish, and thankfully this 2.35:1 anamorphic transfer does justice to that vision. The print is exceptionally clean, and grain it at a minimal, which are both standard with Hollywood films these days. The big surprise however, is the amount of depth apparent within each frame. Shots look almost three dimensional in their clarity, with the brightly lit institution scenes coming off the deepest of all. Adrien Brody has got a mammoth proboscis, and this transfer certainly shows its depth. Some of the darker lovemaking scenes appear slightly muddy, but for the most part this is a clear and vibrant transfer.

Sound

The sound is as sharp as the picture, and this Dolby Digital 5.1 packs considerable force. Considering Brody’s character spends much of the film in a drawer hallucinating, Maybury has fun with the sound design, inserting off-putting little jags and quirks into the back speakers to try and add to the frenzy. The mix sounds very full and boisterous, if not quite as directional as it good. Brian Eno’s score rings with a deep power throughout, and overall this is a moving mix. Well done, Warner.

Supplemental Material

inline Image Although only amounting to two tiny lines on the back of the DVD, the “The Jacket: Project History and Deleted Scenes” and “The Look of the Jacket” featurettes are actually quite substantial. “Project History and Deleted Scenes” is more than just a few excised scenes, instead it is a sprawling history of how the film came to be, detailing casting, the various phases of the screenplay and how Maybury was propositioned to direct by Steven Soderbergh. The deleted scenes, and there are thirteen in total, are integrated seamlessly into the discussion, with introduction and explanation by various participants. Involved in the featurette are Maybury, screenwriter Massy Tadjedin, Brody, and Knightely, among others. Maybury is candid and good to listen to, not afraid to say he did not want Knightley at all for the role, citing that she was more a studio imposition despite the later talents he would discover from her. Most of the deleted scenes don’t amount to much, but they are made all the more interesting by their integration into the featurette, as if we are just watching some old friends explain some home movies. Three alternate endings are also included, and while they don’t differ all that much from the finished product, they do represent a more conventional and downbeat “it’s all in his head!” outlook. At nearly half an hour, this is a fine window into all things The Jacket.



inline Image inline Image inline Image



At only nine minutes, “The Look of the Jacket” seems much less comprehensive than the previous featurette, but it too is more than your typical special effects featurette. It goes into how Maybury designed the visual look for the film, and how he got the special effects editors to screen old films like McCabe & Mrs. Miller before they got to work on the effects. Specific scenes are also deconstructed, with the highlight being the taping of actual insects to the film frame for the final credits montage. Above the content though, it should be mentioned that both extras has a unique and artful style, shot and edited in a way that makes these stand out above and beyond the typical EPK. Jump cuts are used feverishly, and some negative imagery and chroma-keying also keep things visually interesting throughout.



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The disc is capped off by the blasé theatrical trailer, as well as a batch of trailers that play upon the startup of the disc. Those trailers are for House of Wax, Constantine, Eros and A Scanner Darkly. Considering the film was a flop, and that the special features listed on the back did not seem luck much, I was pleasantly surprised at the weight of the extras on this disc.

Final Thoughts

The Jacket is a convoluted time-travel/mindfuck love story that is all plot and little payoff. The directing, acting and scoring are all solid, but with a script this tapered, this is a jacket that just doesn’t fit. The disc itself is very solid, with deep visuals and sound and well-shot supplements with a lot of detail. If you liked the film in theaters (all three of you), then you’ll be more than happy with this disc. All others need not apply. This is a jacket filled with moths.

Rating

Movie - C-
Image Quality - A-
Sound - B+
Supplements - B

Technical Info.
  • Color
  • Running Time - 1 hour 43 minutes
  • Rated R
  • 1 Disc
  • Chapter Stops
  • English Dolby Digital 5.1
  • French Dolby Digital 5.1
  • English subtitles
  • French subtitles
  • Spanish subtitles
Supplements
  • "The Jacket: Prodject History and Deleted Scenes" featurette
  • "The Look of the Jacket" special effects featurette
  • Trailers for House of Wax, Constantine, Eros, and A Scanner Darkly
  • Theatrical Trailer

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