THE JACKET A 42 regular... of TERROR!
The Jacket
dir. Maybury
Opens Fri March 4
Various Theaters

It's weird how much a bullet to the head can change things. Well meaning and out of his element, soldier Jack Starks (Adrien Brody) barely survives the Gulf War--after getting shot in the head in a skirmish, Starks miraculously makes it out of Iraq, albeit with a severely fucked up memory. Then things get even worse--back home, Starks is framed for a crime, but due to his shoddy memory, he can't defend himself. And even worse: Sentenced to a mental institution, he finds himself the patient of the creepy Dr. Becker (Kris Kristofferson), whose experimental treatments consist of shooting Starks full of drugs, strapping him into a straightjacket, and cramming him in a dark hole for hours on end.

Brimming with a slyly ominous undercurrent, John Maybury's film is interesting enough up to this point. But when Starks gets stuck in the claustrophobia-inducing hole, The Jacket becomes disturbing, clever, and emotionally and chronologically fascinating. See, whenever Starks--who's otherwise living in the early '90s--is in the jacket, he's transported to 2007.

First, the good news about 2007: There's Jackie (Keira Knightley), a damaged girl who's lonely and smitten enough to believe Starks' time-traveling claims. The not so good news? Starks discovers that he's dead by 2007, and he and Jackie only have a few days to find out why.

What results is a dark, smart, and emotional film. Brody is perfect; geekily charming yet angrily driven, he brings a much-needed sense of sympathy to his role. Knightley is equally adept, taking a part that could have been a token love interest and becoming a vital, effective force. And director John Maybury's twisting take on Massy Tadjedin's screenplay is just right--he knows when to be stylistic, and when to let Brody's character take the emotional reins.

The Jacket stops just short of being brilliant--the almost-disappointing ending wraps everything up too neatly for that--but for its running time, the film demands attention be paid to both Starks and his unnervingly believable predicament. As disconcerting and jarring as much of The Jacket is, it achieves an involving balance due to its emotional core--making it not only one of the best sci-fi films of recent memory, but one of the best, period.