Trippy and absorbing, confusing and confused, The Jacket is a doozy - an uneasy alliance between the arthouse and Hollywood. It's touted as genre-less, but it's equally genre-full: psychological drama, conspiracy thriller, romance, time-travel mystery and musical (okay, not musical). Neither complete mishmash or masterpiece, it's admirably ambitious, but only repeat viewing will reveal if it really rewards the attention it demands.
All frog-eyes and studied intensity, Adrien Brody holds together the tattered story strands as the traumatised war vet caught between hallucination and reality. Carrying the trauma of The Pianist, he brings a haunted quality to Jack Starks, a man tormented by his past and, quite possibly, his future. Enduring metaphysical and physical horrors - being shot in the head, tripping out in the cadaver drawer, acting opposite Kris Kristofferson - Brody glides between states of angst, sedation and desperation.
Similarly impressive, given her stick-insect-in-a-corset career to date, is Keira Knightley, delivering a spunky, punky turn as the damaged young woman who Starks encounters in the "future". A cigarette-drooping pout seems to be her character's defining trait, but Knightley adds flesh to the bones - particularly to Jackie's awkward sexuality.
As with any time-travel film, the plot requires your indulgence in its central conceit - that when Starks is undergoing psychotropic testing at the hands of Kristofferson's sadistic Dr Becker, the morgue drawer that he's shoved in turns into a time machine. All very 12 Monkeys, the stumbling block being that Becker's treatment is so mad-scientist that it diminishes the film's more philosophical elements. A surfeit of subplots also leaches tension from Jack's evidence-gathering - even if one such diversion features Daniel Craig, who steals scenes with twitchy aplomb as a fellow inmate.
Brit director John Maybury, previously known for his nightmarish Francis Bacon biopic Love Is The Devil, throws in disorientating visual tricks and jumpy editing, but never entirely gets to grips with his efforts to mix mainstream with meaning, depth with box-office oomph. It's a tricky balancing act that Steven Soderbergh - whose company, Section Eight, produces - is forever trying himself (managing it best in Out Of Sight and Traffic). The frustration is that, while from frame one, Maybury's ambition is obvious, the execution is uneven. The movie strives for resonance, but when the conclusion sacrifices meaning for ambiguity, it's disappointing rather than daring. This Jacket is bespoke; it just doesn't quite fit.
Fascinating and frustrating, The Jacket's self-consciously intelligent genre-blending makes for a film to study and admire, but never love.
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