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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

THE JACKET (article first published : 2005-09-5)

The Jacket is a new film directed by John Maybury, by all accounts a cocky and seemingly pretentious individual who has gone on record to say he has little respect for Hollywood. At a European press junket for The Jacket, he surprised journalists and publicity folk alike by being happy to give away his film's ending, adding that he didn't care how much money it made or lost.

The Jacket has met with mixed reviews abroad, many critics labelling it confusing and confused. At least one has seen it as a psychological pot-boiler which, notwithstanding efforts to be genre-less - instead being an awkward amalgam of drama, conspiracy thriller, romance and time-travel mystery - still feels like a reheated 12 Monkeys.

True as all this may be, The Jacket remains an intriguing and captivating film in which the ever-emaciated Adrien Brody - he of the pale skin, bulging eyes and skeletal frame, an Oscar-winner for The Pianist fills the role of a Gulf War marine who, in 1992, is shot in the head and left for dead. But Jack Starks survives, is sent home with amnesia and, a year later, finds himself accused of killing a policeman and sent to a mental institution.

All this happens within a few minutes of the film opening, the bulk of Maybury's 100-minute-plus movie revolving round what happens to Jack while he's in the institution. There, under the orders of the enigmatic Dr Becker (Kris Kristofferson) and the more caring eye of another specialist, Dr Lorenson (Jennifer Jason Leigh), Jack is subjected to a horrifying form of treatment that involves him being tightly bound in a full-body straitjacket and filed face-up into a claustrophobic, dark, morgue-like body drawer.

During continual three-hour stretches there, Jack experiences effects-laden flashbacks to his murky past and, something that is never explained, also vivid mind games that propel him 15 years into a future. It's a future that seems to point to him dying young ... unless he can get help from the adult version of the world-weary Jackie (Keira Knightley), a child he befriended briefly on a snowy road one day shortly before being arrested for murder.

Flamboyantly directed with a penchant for visual trickery and sharp editing, The Jacket becomes complex and a little too clever-clever for its own good at times. Also, sadly, characters are too thinly fleshed as a result of a too-cluttered plot.

But the cast is a good one - also watch for former child star Brad Renfro and Daniel Craig - and Maybury layers the tension neatly enough to make it a worthwhile matinee bet. Rating: 7/10. - Billy Suter




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