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The Jacket (2004)
Rated R

Starring: Adrien Brody, Keira Knightley, and Jennifer Jason Leigh

Rating:
****
out of
*****

In 1991, Jack Starks, serving in Operation Desert Storm, is shot in the head. Believed to be dead, he is about to be sent home in a bodybag. He regains consciousness and is sent to a hospital. Suffering from amnesia and having no friends or family, he is sent home and, after recovering, is soon hitchhiking back in the States, with no real destination.

He comes across a woman (Kelly Lynch) with a small girl by the side of the road. Their truck won't start and the woman is in no condition to drive, apparently suffering from a long bout of drinking. Jack attempts to help them by fixing the truck. Before he can offer to drive them home, the woman threatens Jack, whisks her daughter away from him and the two drive off, leaving Jack to continue walking alone. Soon after, Jack is picked up by a young man (Brad Renfro) driving a station wagon. They're soon pulled over by a state trooper, but the reason why is unclear.

Jack then finds himself sitting on the witness stand, accused of the murder of the state trooper. He has no recollection of anything other than the encounter with the woman and the girl. He is found not guilty of the trooper's murder, but only by reason of insanity and is transported to Alpine Grove, a mental health facility. While there, he is subjected to a "treatment" that is intended to help him with his "violent tendencies." The treatment involves a restraining jacket, some mind-altering drugs and spending time locked in a morgue drawer against his will. Jack manages to find a way out of the drawer, but how he does it is the secret to The Jacket.

Adrien Brody, who won an Academy Award for his role in Roman Polanski's The Pianist, is perfect in the role of the haunted Starks. His physique and mannerisms are a spot-on choice to play Starks, who is fragile in mind and body. Keira Knightley (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl) plays Jackie, an alcoholic young woman who befriends Jack and tries to help him ease his pain. She is fine in her role but this is clearly Brody's show.

Director John Maybury begins the film with a montage of Gulf War footage accompanied by a melencholy musical score that manages to set the tone for the entire film. The opening sequence of events kept me on edge as I tried to figure out what type of movie I was about to experience. Is it a thriller? A drama? A horror movie? It really turns out to be none of the above, but it is entertaining and, ultimately, very good at what it does.

Unfortunately, I think the movie missed making an impact at the box-office because it was marketed as a horror movie with the slogan "Terror has a new name." Um, sure. Hearing that makes you expect something that this movie simply is not and never was supposed to be. It's more thought-provoking than anything else. Sure, there are some holes in the plot and, to some, that might be a reason to trash the movie as silly. Still, I found it to be moving and engaging. If you liked Jacob's Ladder, you should enjoy The Jacket. Not because they're similar plot-wise (which they're really not), but because they are similar in terms of tone and atmosphere.

Trivia: Scenes of Adrien Brody sobbing in the body drawer were real, for he had asked director John Maybury to keep him locked in even when they weren't filming so he could get the feel of the character's despair. Eventually, Brody lost it during filming, and Maybury caught it on tape. (Source: The Internet Movie Database)

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