Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #590
Number of Views: One
Release Date: January 23, 2005 (Sundance), March 4, 2005
Sub-Genre: Psychological Thriller
Box Office: $21,126,225
Country of Origin: United States
Running Time: 103 minutes
Director: John Maybury
Producers: George Clooney, Peter Guber, Steven Soderbergh, Marc Rocco
Screenplay: Massy Tadjedin
Special Effects: David Harris, Louis Craig
Visual Effects: Frazer Churchill
Cinematography: Peter Deming
Score: Roger Eno
Editing: Emma E. Hickox
Studios: Mandalay Pictures, 2929 Entertainment, Section Eight
Distributor: Warner Independent Pictures
Stars: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, Kris Kristofferson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kelly Lynch, Daniel Craig, Brad Renfro, Steven Mackintosh, Brendan Coyle, Mackenzie Phillips
Suggested Audio Jukebox:
 Al Bowlly Close Your Eyes
 Lacuna Coil Claustrophobia
 Brian Eno Fleeting Smile
Some folk don’t do at all well with enclosed spaces. Claustrophobia is no laughing matter and the mere thought of being confined in an airless space sweating buckets is enough to have some of us breaking into cold ones on suggestion alone. Here’s where I stand on the notion of being left in a pinch: should it be a tight-quarters escape pod ejecting from my space cruiser thirty seconds before it vaporizes then I’d be only too happy to suck my chest in for a couple of leisurely orbits. However, downgrade said mini-vessel to a stifling sarcophagus and I may just have something to say about it. When was the last time you saw a tarantula sneakily scuttle into a pressurized capsule? Precisely, six feet beneath topsoil suits them just fine. I’ve got Bill Pullman to thank for that one.
For the worst afflicted among us, a relatively benign thirty-second elevator ride can feel like the grand tour of Wonka’s choc stop, and mall-based photo booths are every bit as fearsome. For them, the idea of being slid into a mortuary locker and left indefinitely to fester equates to a lobeful of blown circuits and I would suggest them providing John Maybury’s psychotronic star-gazer The Jacket a decidedly wide berth as it’s all about getting up close and personal. To be fair, it’s more of a free-range affair, but that’s not to say you won’t be hearing the words “slide him in fellas” or bone-chilling words to that very effect a fair few times throughout. Fret not as you won’t be left entirely to your own devices, although you may find the incessant whimpering of a man destined to repeatedly take one for the team a little disconcerting.
For hapless Gulf War veteran Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) it’s not quite the hero’s welcome he feels he has warranted after taking one such shot to his dome during active service, courtesy of a small child with an itchy trigger finger. Come to think of it, our fatally wounded veteran hasn’t fared much better since, and even an unselfish act like offering roadside assistance to an alcoholic mother and her cute as Benji ankle biter ends up earning him a shrapnel subsidy, and he seems pre-fated to wind up the perpetual fall guy. For his troubles, he has been gifted a bed at the state nuthouse, under the questionable bedside manner of Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson) and his team of highly trained gurney sliders. Should his mental progress be called into question, then it’s on with the jacket post-haste and this Cenobite’s corset certainly ain’t no windbreaker. Indeed it is of the strait variety and a bastard when those nasal hairs start a tickling.
On the upside, there is the small question of some mostly harmless experimental drugs and they afford bonuses way beyond simply taking the edge off. Each time that drawer slams shut and Jack realizes that snivelling isn’t buying him that breathing space, he is promptly transported to another place and time altogether and it sure as shit beats sucking in his own methane for two-hour stints. Why fart in an airtight coffer when you can leap forward fifteen years, hitch a ride from some pretty little thing as she clocks off from her shift at the diner, and fart at her place instead? Fuck it Jack, you may as well go the whole hog and relinquish those stomach cramps in her John while she’s preparing you a sandwich. If you happen to offend her, then just try again next time. After all, you’re going to be running into this chick rather a lot from now on.
The feathered friend in question is Jackie (Keira Knightley) and there is undeniably some kind of unspoken connection between the pair. Let’s not twist the jacket straps here, she’s initially a tad standoffish and views Jack as little more than a sad-eyed rescue dog to feed a warm meal, possibly allow to curl up on the foot of her bed, then kick out come sunlight. But there’s something between them that is impossible to place, a magnetism, sense of history, something inexplicable. It isn’t long before Jack does a little snooping around her personal guff and, when he does, things start to make the first bit of sense. There is indeed a parallel and, in Jackie, he possesses the one person unrestrained enough to take his crazy notion and run with it. Something has got to alter with his future and fast, or else he may just arrive at a denouement he cannot magic his way back from.
While evidently shaken from his stint in lock-up, Jack’s return to the present from the future represents a past that he no longer wishes to not remember. Sure there are some okay peeps rocking the hours away back and forth to their next course of shock treatment and that Rudy (Daniel Craig) is a fascinating creature. Poor man swears blind he has to contact M at once or else she’ll have him over her knee with a shake and a stir before he can rappel Miss Moneypenny’s petticoat. Anyhoots, the cuckoo’s nest has been great and all but the prospect of varnishing Jackie’s headboard with man emulsion while she masticates his testicles is far more appealing. The whole jacket may still be a bone of contention, but they call it hindsight for a reason and all momentum points back to the future. Great Scott Jack!
Brody is perfectly cast as our beleaguered jacket jockey as his gaunt features are simply made to disclose emotional fatigue and weeping dread. He may not be your conventional leading man but the facts cannot lie and somehow he keeps pocketing those plums. Here he appears to be settling into cruise control with that lanky stride of his but beneath the water those legs are paddling for dear life and it oozes through his pores quite delightfully. In preparation for the role of Jack, Brody committed himself more than dutifully to the cause and requested that Maybury leave him to ruminate in the locker during downtime to assist him in his quest to suffer like Jack does. For the record, not all of his histrionics are mere screen ham and he actually did start to go a little doolally in the drawer, so this guy goes all in with the best of ’em.
Knightley is right there fumbling with his jacket buckles the whole way and their unusual synergy anchors the film no less than graciously. There is genuine warmth to Jackie and, as we learn more about her, those petals begin to unfurl exquisitely. Kristofferson adds a welcome dash of Whistler to proceedings, Kelly Lynch is exceptional as the one ghost in Jack’s past who can still kick that soda can should she just be provided some long overdue perspective, Craig gets to let a little of his pent-up inner whack job out and we’re all benefactors, and Jennifer Jason Leigh hasn’t the vaguest clue how to be anything less than excellent as she proves once again as Becker’s gradually grasping assistant Lorenson. For a film that banks on its conundrum to impart its memory, the fact that all puzzle pieces are in place and have the drill down to pat is a great weight off and assists The Jacket no end in grasping for that high ground.
Massy Tadjedin’s sterling screenplay is loosely adapted to Jack London’s novel The Star Rover from a whole centenary back and feels both natural and perceptively written. A film like The Jacket could easily come across as cold, particularly given its winter setting, but there’s enough warmth within to get those mittens toasty and the same can be said for Peter Deming’s heat seeking cinematography. Snow is a given and there’s plenty of opportunity for him to stretch his lens in the great outdoors but he also knows when to bring things in for the dreaded hug and the fact that I spent half my 103 minutes wishing only to give Jack a tight squeeze speaks volumes for the warmth of his optical embrace. Second thoughts, perhaps Mr. Starks needs a little space right now as I didn’t see that saliva on his chin when they slid him in.
Maybury’s brain teasing curiosity comes tantalizingly close to being regarded as something of a phenomenon and future views may well see it shuffling for that pinnacle. Of course, that would entail another shift in the locker, but it says a great deal for The Jacket that I’d join Jack in the constraints without dalliance. Where it blossoms most is somewhat surprisingly not its mystery element, although that is stretched taut across the running time with not an inch of slack to spare. Instead it is the quiet and respectful observation of Lynch’s character Jean and the impact her ill-informed choices have on the one person she loves more than nobody at all that glances a welcome nerve. This leaves me with only one request Dr. Becker and then I promise I won’t wriggle – be a star and loosen the straps just enough for the inevitable ball itch old bean. Actually scrap that, I hear that Jackie’s a whizz with a loofah. And what the fuck is that black widow doing in here? That wasn’t part of the treatment.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 9/10
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Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
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