PicturedThe very different styles of Adrien Brody (left) and Vin Diesel.
Avant-garde queer filmmaker John Maybury is probably best known to gay audiences for having helmed Sinead O'Connor's 'Nothing Compares To You' video and Love is the Devil, his 1998 offbeat study of the fractured relationship between painter Francis Bacon and his lover George Dyer. A noted painter of renown in England himself, Maybury is about to get a lot more notoriety in America with the release of The Jacket, a psychological sci-fi/horror/time travel thriller which arrives in this country just as we've been told by Those We Don't Speak Of, that on certain occasions torture is A-OK.
This movie, not unlike other films in this suddenly hot genre, ( The Butterfly Effect, Identity and The Mothman Prophecies are recent examples ) , seems to take great pleasure in torturing its audience with heavy doses of 'psychotropic' photographic effects that sooner or later find me reaching for the anti-nausea medication. The Jacket ups the ante tenfold. My general reaction to this movie can be summed up with an old joke—Why do you stay with that sadist? Beats me.
Actually, I know why I stuck it out to the end: the great performance by Adrien Brody in the title role and because, frankly, I'm fascinated by Brody's flamingo-like physicality. He just doesn't look like any other movie star and it could be that Maybury agrees with me as the film features an arsenal of close ups of the actor's face and torso. Tall and broad shouldered with a muscular but whippet-like frame, Brody's face is angular in the extreme with his hawk nose its most prominent feature. Not unlike his female counterparts, Meryl Streep and Barbra Streisand, Brody appears beautiful from one angle, ugly from another, alien-like from a third. Like all great stars, though, he has eyes that forgive every physical irregularity. In short, he's a terrific camera subject and this film would have been much less involving with standard beauties like Mark Wahlberg or Colin Farrell in the role ( both were attached to the movie at one time ) .
Brody plays Jack Starks, a troubled Gulf War vet who becomes the subject of experiments in a mental hospital for the criminally insane after being wrongly convicted as a cop killer. For the experiments, a form of psychological torture, Starks is drugged, strapped into a straitjacket-like device and stashed in a morgue drawer for hours on end. Mackenzie Phillips, playing a cross between Louise Fletcher's Nurse Ratched and Cloris Leachman's Nurse Diesel ( and wielding a steel riding crop that she smacks inmates with ) , does the honors along with another orderly as Doctor Sadist ( Kris Kristofferson ) looks on. Somehow during the unbelievably inhuman process ( which Maybury repeats and repeats until I was crying 'Uncle' ) , Starks travels into the future, where he foresees his death and realizes that he might be able to save and change the lives of several of the other characters.
Brody's performance is abetted by a nice turn from current hot young thing Keira Knightly and an offbeat supporting cast that includes Kelly Lynch ( let's have much more of her from now on please ) , Brad Renfro ( in what amounts to a cameo ) , the aforementioned Phillips and Kristofferson, and most surprisingly, Jennifer Jason-Leigh. Jason-Leigh has a tendency to ... get on my nerves, but her acting tics are held nicely in check here by Maybury.
The Jacket offers Brody a tour de force role ( something he's been looking for since The Pianist ) , Maybury a chance to show off his particular abstract vision ( the film is a sort of Eternal Darkness of the Messed Up Mind ) and the audience another one of those psychological head trip movies that seem to have become so enticing. The popularity of the time travel device will certainly also be seen by many as a plus ( because our time is so screwed up? ) but the more of these types of movies I see, the more I long for thrillers with simple, straightforward narratives without everything gussied up. 'I long for the old view' said the Old Lady character at one point in Sondheim's Sunday In The Park With George, and that about says it perfectly for me here.
Action star Vin Diesel, as I predicted last year when I reviewed The Chronicles of Riddick, is starring in a comedy. The reason for this is because Diesel is in BIG need of a hit after several flops and for some reason when the careers of action stars begin to wilt, they turn to 'fish out of water' comedies like this one, The Pacifier, to bail them out. It worked at the box office for Schwarzenegger with Kindergarten Cop ( which this film is highly reminiscent of ) but I honestly can't say if it will save Mr. Diesel's shapely ass ( not to mention his rather spectacular top shelf—a constant topic of conversation in the film ) . The first half of the movie is bad and leaves no cliché of this well-worn formula behind. Surprisingly, however, the second half picks up and I was sort of won over by the end of the film.
This may be because I am rather taken with Diesel's physicality ( though for reasons very different from Adrien Brody's ) which is nicely displayed and commented on throughout by the other characters or that Diesel and the silly story are supported by ace television character actors Brad Garrett, Lauren Graham, and Carol Kane who are expert enough to ring laughs out of laundry and are fun to watch. I think, however, that seeing Diesel portray a Navy SEAL who solves every problem with a military solution until he learns that a softer, gentler approach is perhaps the better way to go, is what finally won me over. I don't care a whit about Diesel's real-life sexuality but onscreen he's always radared as gay for me ( please re-watch Exhibits A and B, Pitch Black and The Fast and the Furious for evidence ) . In The Pacifier Diesel seems to be edging closer to acceptance of what I see as his true, onscreen self—a one-man army of action that the government's Top Secret organization calls on when all else has failed.
Naturally, he also just happens to be gay.
Local Screening of Note: Director Rodney Evans will be on hand for a screening and discussion of Brother to Brother, his award-winning film about a young Black man's coming of age aided by a poet from the Harlem Renaissance one night only as part of the Gene Siskel Film Center's 'Conversations on the Edge' series. Thursday, March 10. Highly recommended. www.siskelfilmcenter.com