The Jacket

(2005) *** Pg-13
103 min. Warner Independent Pictures. Director: John Maybury. Cast: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Kris Kristofferson.

It's tempting to view The Jacket as a note-for-note rehash of time-travel drama 12 Monkeys (or a later, better draft of The Butterfly Effect), a new take on war-vet psychological horror film Jacob's Ladder, or a cousin of The Machinist, since both it and The Jacket feature rail-thin stars playing lost men grappling with elusive traumas in their pasts. Though comparisons are apt, The Jacket succeeds on its own terms: the assured direction of John Maybury (Love is the Devil), the leading performances by Oscar-winner Adrien Brody and Keira Knighley, and a helluva supporting cast, which includes Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Brad Renfro, and Daniel Craig.

Brody plays Jack Starks, a Gulf War marine who describes "the first time I died" (a war wound), and drifts around Vermont with insomnia until a chance meeting lands him first in jail and then in a mental asylum. Kristofferson's doctor regularly subjects him to sensory deprivation drug therapy, strapping him into a strait-jacket and shoving him into a morgue drawer to "peel away some layers of hate" ("You can't break something that's already broken," the doctor reasons). What Starks sees in those sessions deepens the mystery and gives him a reason to recover his damaged memories.

Apparently, Starks's line of treatment gives him premonitory power. In future visions, Starks tentatively befriends Knightley's boozy, wary young woman and learns of his own impending death. Whenever Starks returns to his present, he struggles to reconcile the information and take action he hopes will "correct" the future timeline. Leigh plays a doctor who gets wind of Starks's claims, while Craig plays an entertaining "movie crazy" in a vein similar to Brad Pitt's in Twelve Monkeys. Brody and Knightley lead the way with their grounded and subtle work.

Maybury oversees a strong production design, trippy effects (like Brody's eyes welling up with blood), brain-rattling editing, and original music by Brian Eno. Massy Tadjedin's screenplay (from a story by Tom Bleecker and Marc Rocco) raises intriguing questions. Is Jack delusional or does he really see more than other people do? More importantly, how much time do we have on Earth, and how should we best spend it? That Maybury's film avoids easy categorization (and the increasingly cheap twistiness of today's psychological horror thrillers) is one of its finest points. The Jacket is definitely a psychodrama and possibly a science-fiction story. Either way, its memorably dreamy images and strong acting linger in the mind.

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