Had the director of this well-made science-fantasy thriller been half as concerned with his characters as psychedelic razzle-dazzle, this picture might have stayed in the theaters longer than two weeks. As it is, one can appreciate the individual elements and talent that went into it -- and there is considerable talent on display here. And though it misses the mark of being a great film, or a film that really connects with audiences, I enjoyed much of it, and especially appreciated the naturalistic performances of Adrien Brody and Keira Knightley.
The problems, though -- unfortunately -- are many. Originally written five years ago as sort of a Jacob's Ladder-inspired version of a Jack London novel, where a prisoner escapes, psychologically, from solitary confinement through self- induced hallucinations, the script was bogged down by two many different story threads. The protagonist in early versions was rooted in the 1960s. The war was Vietnam, the opening scene was inspired by the My Lai massacre, and the hero, by the film's end, attempted to thwart Martin Luther King's assassination!
Though many of the political and other non-essential elements were wisely removed (often scripts try to do too much for their own good), some facets that helped the story make sense were left by the wayside. This, of course, is what often happens in the rewriting process when producers or writers get too close to a project -- they forget about of the basic storytelling elements and get caught up instead in the minutiae of the dialogue, scenes and locations.
Among the basic components dropped from the original script in the seven-year journey to getting this picture to the screen were a reasonable explanation of what the jacket is, where the "jacket" came from, and what the original intention of the isolation experiments were in the first place. We are also missing any sort of dramatic buildup as to the entire "jacket" experience. Yes, these topics are touched on -- but not in the way the first draft screenplay dealt with them. In the original script, there was talk and anticipation about "the jacket" -- fearful talk among the inmates of the asylum. Just what is it? Straightjacket? Torture device? In the final film, everything happens so fast and matter-of-factly that much of the drama is lost. We almost forget that these are morgue drawers that people are being put into. We have no real fear of Dr. Becker's bizarre procedure. He just shows up, puts Brody in the jacket, and boom! He's in the drawer. Moving on, next scene! Never mind that it makes little or no sense -- other than a wacko doctor torturing his patients.
And speaking of making no sense, no real reason is ever given for Brody experiencing the alternate realities or traveling through time. Compare this with "Somewhere in Time" or "Back to the Future" or "The Time Machine" --time travel films that actually make a lot of sense! In "Somewhere in Time," Christopher Reeve goes into the past because he wills himself back. "Back to the Future" and "The Time Machine" involve devices created for time traveling. Sure, there's something to be said for a "La Jetee" or a "12 Monkeys," where there are a lot of questions. "La Jetee" functions more as a mood piece than anything else -- and "The Jacket" seems inspired by it. And like "Jacob's Ladder," "The Jacket" also contains all kinds of symbolism and hinted-at meanings and tons of metaphysical connections one can make, if one so wishes. The asylum as Hell? Snow-covered countryside as Heaven? Sure, there are a lot of interesting and thought-provoking touches.
But there's also confusion -- and such an absence of humanity that any type of happy ending that's tacked on (and this film ideally should have gone the "Brazil" route in terms of the conclusion) just doesn't make an impact. Keira Knightley, while good, has about as much warmth as Helena Bonham-Carter in "Fight Club," while Adrien Brody specializes in playing tortured souls, not romantic leads trying to help out women in distress while engaging in tragic romances. Adrien should definitely not have been floating in the ocean doling out words of wisdom to Kate before dropping forever into the sea! Leo was the one for that job -- and the billion dollars in revenue proves it. Same thing here. This film could have used a little of Leo's charm. A little something. A little charm. A little humor. A little WARMTH, for crying out loud!
Considering the subject matter, a gay, British music video director might not have been the best man for the job here. Still, he does a great job with the extreme closeups of Adrien's eyes, and the CGI and sound effects teams did a hell of job with the psychedelic transitions into the future (though the zooms into the pupils of the eye revealing the scene he's about to go into could have been a bit more clear, and a little less flashy -- as it is, we barely register what the hell is going on. Anyone even pick up on that?)
As far as the time travel paradoxes, this territory has been well-covered in films like "Back to the Future" and apparently "The Butterfly Effect," which I haven't seen. Writers like Ray Bradbury and Phillip Dick and David Gerrold, of course, have been mining this territory for years -- so this part of the film, for me, is nothing really new. Speaking of Bradbury, it'll be interesting to see if "A Sound of Thunder" makes an impression in the time travel genre. It was always one of the definitive short stories on the subject, in my opinion. Hopefully the balance between sci-fi and humanity will be a little better than "The Jacket." Sometimes a little heart can go a long way! Just ask the King of the World.
Review by jt1999 from the Internet Movie Database.