Existential chill

Rated 4.0

Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) is hating life. Shot in the head and left for dead during Desert Storm, he finds himself a year later hitching on the wintry back roads of Vermont, with only his dog tags to remind him of who he is. Pausing to aid a young stranded mother, he gives his tags to her daughter. Soon after, he is given a ride by a nutjob who promptly whacks a patrolman who’s pulled them over. Wounded by stray gunfire and with no recollection of the incident, Starks is framed for the murder and institutionalized in a home for the criminally insane. There, he is subjected to the crude experiments of a mad doctor (Kris Kristofferson), who binds him in the titular straight-jacket, shoots him up with drugs and locks him down overnight in a morgue meat locker.

Thus a catalyst is sparked, and Starks finds himself shivering in a snowstorm … 15 years into the future, confronted with a tortured young adult who was once the little girl (Keira Knightly). What follows is a race against time as Jack tries to find out the circumstances of his death, in hopes of preventing it and binding the wounds of Fate.

The premise is admittedly a little dodgy, but director John Maybury brings a visual flash and dogged determination to the table that holds the proceedings together nicely, with a sturm-und-drang MTV style that pummels the sensibilities, putting the viewer in sympathy with Jack’s existential endurance test.

Most of the fun of indulging in a time-travel theme is deconstructing how well the creators of the story have navigated the minefield of inherent conundrums. Here, aside from one glaring misstep (I won’t point out where—if you catch it, you do, if you don’t, hey, the flick seems seamless), the designers of The Jacket have woven a tightly knit narrative, wherein Jack can travel only to a timeframe in which he no longer exists. Casually, this is a love story about soul mates fighting against seemingly insurmountable odds to be together.