The Jacket (2005) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

"I wish there was a way I could travel back in time and warn myself not to see this movie."

Mr. Cranky


It would be easy to dismiss The Jacket, as Mr. Cranky did wittily. It really didn't have many supporters.

  • Critics didn't much care for it. Rotten Tomatoes shows 57 positive reviews and 77 negatives.

  • Audiences didn't think much of it either. It was a colossal dud at the box office, opening with a measly two million dollar weekend and dying soon thereafter.

  • I don't suppose that its investors will be that happy with it, either, since the production budget was $19 million, and a 1300 screen roll-out must have incurred some substantial distribution costs. There must have been some marketing costs as well.

  • Those negatives are capped off nicely by the fact that it's a damned time-travel movie. Even Ed Wood thought those were cheesy.

So you should give it a pass at your video store, right?

Maybe not. I started out skeptical, but the film has a lot of positives, and by the time it ended it had it won me over.

Let me deal with the subject of time-travel movies. There are many critics who want to pick apart their plots as illogical. Well, no shit! Let's just lay our cards on the table honestly, shall we? Every time-travel movie that has ever been made is completely illogical. In fact, I have even traveled into the future, and I can assure you that every time travel movie that will ever be made will be completely illogical. Can you guess why? Your thinking time is up. It is because time-travel back to the past does not exist. I can't say for certain that the entire concept is to be dismissed categorically. Perhaps somebody somewhere in the universe will figure out how to navigate the curves of space and use that navigation to warp time in some manner. Who knows? But I can tell you with absolute certainty that from now until the time when our sun burns into an ember, human beings will never discover how to go back into the past. Can you guess how I figured that out? I think it will be clear to you if you think about it.

Sure, time travel movies are dumb. Sure, you can pick their plots apart. Let's face it, all werewolf, vampire, supernatural, time-travel and zombie movies are dumb. As we approach these sorts of films with our critical faculties, we can either dismiss them all as crap, or we can try to address them within the context of the genres we enjoy, and ask ourselves the key questions about those types of movies.  "What is it about movies that we like? When people ask us why a movie is good, what are the various reasons we offer in justification? What are the different reasons people go to movies in the first place?" Those of you who are mature and sensible will evaluate time-travel films by concluding that the fictionalized representation of time travel is something which expresses the innermost workings of our subconscious minds.

The concept of time travel always has and always will fascinate us. We long to travel to the past and the future because we possess complicated and curious minds filled with speculative thoughts. We regret things we did, and wish we could go back to undo them. We loved people in our individual pasts, in times when life seemed better than the present, and we long to go back and live in those times again. We dream of going back to the past knowing what we know now, able to capitalize on opportunities we missed. We are painfully aware of how our own mortality prevents us from seeing how the story of humanity ends, and yet we are involved in that story and, as with any good yarn that involves us, we want to see how it turns out. We dream of what the future might be like, and we would like to believe that we will somehow be able to look down upon it from the great beyond. We know that man will discover more and more of the secrets of the cosmos, and observe more of the beauty of the universe, and we want to know what is out there, so we dream of transporting ourselves to a future where man has opened some of the doors currently closed to us.

Yup, that's what you mature and sensible people might think. As for me, I just prefer to dismiss them all as crap.

I'm kidding.

Well, sort of. Except for the werewolf movies. You really can pretty much throw all of those in the crapper.

But with time-travel films, it isn't the gimmick that is important, but what one does with the gimmick. Does it engage us? Does it thrill us? Does it send shivers up our spines? Does it move us?

The Jacket begins with a soldier "dying" in the First Gulf War, but he manages to come back to consciousness, apparently with many symptoms of battlefield shock. A year later, soldier Jack is civilian Jack, hitchhiking on the side of a snow-covered road when he stops to help out some stranded motorists, a little girl and her drunken mother. Eventually our hero gets a ride from a psychotic guy who kills a policeman and leaves Jack to take the rap. Since Jack has all kinds of mental issues to begin with, and can't seem to recall what actually happened between him and the dead policeman, he is eventually committed to the loony bin. Once there, he is placed in some kind of experimental treatment which involves mind-altering drugs and sensory deprivation. The treatment seems to be even loonier than the patients: the doctor straps his drugged patients into strait-jackets and uses the morgue cabinets as his makeshift sensory deprivation area.

Irrespective of what the doctor intends, the bizarre treatment does have a major impact on Jack. It sends him fifteen years into the future, where he again encounters the stranded motorist girl, now grown into sad womanhood as a chain-smoking Goth waitress in a redneck diner. They strike up a relationship after she overcomes her incredulity about his time-travel story. (He offers details that he could not have known unless he was there on that day in her childhood.) The film then shifts back and forth from the events of Dec 25-31, 1992 to the events of Dec 25-31, 2007. Jack's consciousness moves to 2007 when he is in the sensory deprivation vault, and returns to 1992 when he is brought out of the experimental treatment. While he is in the future, Jack finds out that he died on January 1, 1993. This gives him only six days in which he may either prevent his death or do something else worthwhile with his time-traveling abilities.

The ending isn't really comprehensible, as is typical of time-travel films. Let's just say it's open to multiple interpretations. I do like the process of getting there. The director uses a combination of pictures and music and ideas to hook the viewer into the story both intellectually and emotionally. He was also fortunate or smart enough to hire three terrific actors for the main roles: Adrian Brody, Jennifer Jason Leigh, and Keira Knightley.

What can you say? I was into the mystery, and I was moved by some of the scenes. The film has its weak moments, and it gets a little too "It's A Wonderful Life" for the more cynical modern sensibility, but overall I think you might consider ignoring the weak reviews and ticket sales. Give it a look.

Some discussion questions which may be spoilers:

Did Jack actually travel into the future at all, or did he just realize he was dying and imagine what the future would be like without him? After all, he might have used reason and imagination to deduce how the little girl's life would turn out, in which case he would still have been able to write the same 1992 letter to the alcoholic mother.

Jack was really in 2007. Two reasons:

The future was filled with accurately rendered cell phones and post-1993 automobiles. Contrast that to the imagined future in Jacob's Ladder, in which an observant viewer may determine that the dying patient did not really make it, but was constructing a mental picture of the future based on what he knew at the time that he died.

More important, we know the future portion was real because Jack brought back information from the future that he could not have known unless he had actually gone there. There is no other way to explain how could have known in 1992 about Jennifer Jason Leigh's secret patient, or about some complicated medical procedure which he had never heard of except by discussing it in the future.


In the end, did Jack manage to avoid his death on January 1, 1993?

I don't think so, but I suppose you can read it either way if it makes you happy.

I think Jack knew he was dying after he hit his head, and wanted to get shunted into the cabinet one last time, so he could make one more short trip into the future. He did not do this to escape death, but just because he wanted to see how everything worked out for the girl. I assume that his death on January 1, 1993 would make him suddenly disappear without a trace from January 1, 2008, in exactly the same manner in which he had disappeared on his previous visits to the future.

I made this assumption because his manifestation on January 1, 2008 was as a 25 year old man, not as a forty year old. Therefore, he was still a ghost visiting from the past, not a man born in 1968 who was still alive in 2008.

To me this makes the ending a powerful emotional statement. Think about it. Instead of using his knowledge to avoid his own death, he unselfishly employed his borrowed time to change the life of the girl he came to love.

On the other hand, I don't think the movie wanted to impose one absolute interpretation. If it had wanted to make all the points I just made, it could easily have gone on to do so with another thirty seconds of running time, but it didn't make that choice. I assume the writer and director feel that ambiguity is part of the pleasure of a supernatural film, and also an important part of  the process of engaging the audience. If that does represent their reasoning, I agree completely. The way they did it was subtler and more involving than if they had offered a more complete explanation.


How does the film end in the "alternate" endings on the DVD?

There were two other possibilities which they discarded. (1) To show clearly that he died on the battlefield in 1991, ala Jacob's Ladder. (2) To show clearly that he was still alive in 1993, awakened from his last trip to the future by Kristofferson's voice.

I agree with their decision to scrap those choices.


What is the "Jack" theme all about? The movie is about lovers named Jack and Jackie, who connect because of a jacket.

I don't know. If I tried to answer, I would just be ... jacking off. If you figure it out, or even if you have a good theory, let me know.


Just curious ... how did Keira Knightley and Daniel Craig do with the American accents?

Keira was perfect with a generic American accent. I never would have suspected for a minute that she wasn't an American. Craig didn't fare as well. He had good moments, but he ran into two problems. (1) Sometimes he tried to over-enunciate the American sounds, and that left him sounding like the Pythons doing their broad lampoons of crazy Americans. That was not so bad in context, since Craig was supposed to be as nutty as a fruitcake. (2) At other times, he simply slipped. The script called for him to say the word "organization" many times. Most of the time he'd say "or gan IZZ a tion" like a true Yank, but at least once he just plain blurted out "or gan EYES a tion," and the director (a Brit) didn't catch it.

Just curious ... MacKenzie Phillips is in this film. Haven't seen her in years. What's the story?

She had a lot of screen time, but I don't even remember hearing her voice. She played an unpleasant nurse at the mental institution. (Picture to the right.)



DVD INFO to the left

  • featurette The Jacket: Project History, Deleted Scenes, and two alternate endings

  • featurette: the look of The Jacket


  • Keira Knightley shows her breasts during a bath scene and then briefly in the sex scene with Adrian Brody

  • Brody shows his bum, mostly just from the side, in that sex scene.

The Critics Vote ...

  • Super-panel consensus out of four stars: two and a half  stars. James Berardinelli 3/4, Roger Ebert 2/4, BBC 3/5.

The People Vote ...

The meaning of the IMDb score: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence equivalent to about three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, comparable to approximately two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, equivalent to about a two star rating from the critics, or a C- from our system. Films rated below five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film - this score is roughly equivalent to one and a half stars from the critics or a D on our scale. (Possibly even less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. (C+ means it has no crossover appeal, but will be considered excellent by genre fans, while C- indicates that it we found it to be a poor movie although genre addicts find it watchable). D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well. Any film rated C- or better is recommended for fans of that type of film. Any film rated B- or better is recommended for just about anyone. We don't score films below C- that often, because we like movies and we think that most of them have at least a solid niche audience. Now that you know that, you should have serious reservations about any movie below C-.

Based on this description, it's a C+. It's an underrated film which will never find much of an audience because it really fits nowhere. It's not a general audience film but a genre film without a genre, basically an episode of The Twilight Zone without the customary surprise ending.

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