Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Recommended!: The Jacket (2005)

"How much time do we have?"

 Adrien Brody is Jack Starks, an Operation Desert Storm veteran dealing with amnesia and other mental problems resulting from a head wound sustained in Iraq. Interned in a center for the criminally insane after being framed for a cop's murder, he is subjected to a bizarre, inhumane treatment that sends him forward in time. In this future, he gravitates toward Jackie (Keira Knightley), a young woman who he had encountered when she was a little girl. A mystery unfolds surrounding his apparently imminent death, and as Jack and Jackie's bond deepens, Jack finds himself running out of time, and tries desperately to retain his grip on sanity long enough to make things right in both the present and the future.

I can't think of a more romantic movie that begins with its hero getting shot in the head. Indeed, what makes The Jacket such an incredible find (and what basically buried it during its release) is that it is so unclassifiable. Its violence and gruesome scenes led to it being marketed as a horror film; its keenly felt tenderness and humanity were perhaps lost on those expecting a non-stop gore-fest; and its complex (though perfectly lucid) plot wound up leaving many perfectly intelligent people in the dust.

 Indeed, the time-trekking story of John Maybury's film does bear an obvious debt to Chris Marker's La Jetee (which had previously been more directly remade by Terry Gilliam as 12 Monkeys). But the unfolding mystery offers a solid structure, and the romance that builds in parallel offers moments of respite, and even grace, even as it adds to the stakes of that mystery.

The Jacket was produced by Steven Soderbergh and George Clooney, filling the mandate of their Section 8 project to bring fringe filmmakers into the mainstream with their vision intact. Having grown up on a steady diet of punk rock and radical politics, John Maybury could have hardly been a more fringe filmmaker. Building a story with Hollywood resources and A-list actors, Maybury delivered exactly the movie he wanted to make, which, as intense as it often is, is exactly the movie it needs to be: a gruesome and terrifying descent into conflict and madness. A walk through purgatory that ends up in something very close to Heaven.

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