Remember the "Back To The Future"? A mad scientist blasts young Michael J. Fox to the past where he meets his teenage parents. Fox can't bear to witness his nerdy father (Crispin Glover) take so much abuse, so he steps in with some handy advice; by changing the past, he alters his own future.
In terms of tone (think bone-chilling instead of comedy) and character (rail thin star Adrien Brody is not a bundle of light-hearted good cheer), John Maybury's "The Jacket" seems to have little in common with the eighties hit film, but the bais premise is the same.
In the film's startling opening scene, Jack Starks (Brody), a U.S. Marine sergeant serving in the Persian Gulf War, tries to comfort a confused child, and subsequently, is shot in the head by that same child. Nine months later, an amnesiac, Starks is walking the snow-filled streets of Vermont, still helping children. This time it's eight-year-old Jackie (Laura Marano), who is stranded by the side of the road with her drunken mother (Kelly Lynch). The instant rapport between the girl and the man is touching; when she asks Starks for the dog tags on his rucksack, he gives them to her without hesitation.
Ten years later, Starks meets Jackie again, transformed into the shape of a moody, chain-smoking waitress (Keira Knightley). The circumstances of their meeting are unusual to say the least. It's like this: Starks finds himself wrongly placed in a mental institution for the criminally insane after the murder of a police officer. His mad psychiatrist (Kris Kristofferson) pumps him full of experimental drugs, stuffs him into a restraining jacket, and then shoves him into a corpse drawer in the hospital morgue. While hallucinating in this horrifically claustrophobic virtual coffin, Starks realizes this older manifestation of Jackie is that same sad little girl by the side of the road. They fall in love, solve the mystery of Stark's predestined murder, and in the course of these events, reinvent their future.
The main difference between "The Jacket" and "Back To The Future" is that John Maybury's movie is dead serious. The narrative arc, see-sawing between the present day mental institution and the alternate future lived inside the jacket, seems too fantastic, too absurd, and yet, somehow the story works. Massy Tadjen's screenplay hits the necessary plot points to explain away the incredulous doubts; Maybury gets the dramatic tension just right, and he elicits terrific performances out of all his actors.
Oscar winner Adrien Brody-tall, thin, twitching, and painfully earnest-makes for a convincing romantic lead. Forget Tom Cruise, this big nosed actor is dreamy stuff. Plus his early scenes in the corpse drawer are truly terrifying. Ingenue Keira Knightley ("The Pirates of the Caribbean") proves that to be more than a pretty face, she can also act. Jennifer Jason Leigh turns in nuanced performance as a compassionate psychiatrist, in a well developed, refreshingly straight role.