Tag Archives: Brad Renfro

John Maybury’s The Jacket


The Jacket is a curiosity of a film, and didn’t stand out for many critics when it came out, but for some reason it’s stayed in my thoughts for years since and has become one of my favourites, of any genre. Moody, cold, desolate and sketchy, it’s an at once alienating and life affirming piece that puts you front and centre with the kind of crushing loneliness one must feel when the mind becomes broken, and then wraps us in a comfort blanket with the notion that forces unknown to us, and some not so mysterious (human contact is touched upon), one might extricate themselves to a better situation. Adrien Brody is confusion incarnate as haunted gulf war vet Jack Starks, a gaunt silhouette of a soul who suffered a head wound, the neurological fallout of which has left gaps in his perception of reality and a jagged sense of cohesion. Shipped off to a nightmare of a mental facility run by Kris Kristofferson, whose character almost certainly shouldn’t be left in the care of troubled minds as his idea of treatment consists of pumping patients full of untested pharmaceuticals and shunting them into a morgue drawer. This is where, by unexplained phenomena, Jack is able to bounce forward in time from his drab 1999 timeline over to a slightly less drab 2007, where he meets Jackie (Keira Knightley), a girl who might have ties to his past. The film sounds high concept, almost Sci Fi, but the way it’s composed is anything but. The supernatural elements are shown frankly and never overblown, gilding the psyche of the characters in a more internal, psychological fashion, especially when Brody is in that drawer and all manner of bizarre subconscious phantasms dance before his vision, before he’s whisked off to the future. All the characters but one are listless, withdrawn and somber, from Jennifer Jason Leigh’s sympathetic, forlorn doctor (she’s terrific here) to Kristofferson, who provides grizzle and a welcome depth where other actors would have gone the straight up Dr. Frankenstein cop-out route. Daniel Craig is the one live-wire who breaks the mold, and I enjoy his early career work before he calcified into the stoic 007 template. He’s a treat here as a rambunctious fellow patient and spirit guide to Starks. Appearances from Brad Renfro, Kelly Lynch and Stephen MacKintosh are notable as well. There’s a despondent, bleak blanket over much of the film, a coldness brought through in broad strokes by director John Maybury, whose distinct European approach to filming (multiple extreme closeups, subtle voiceover, trippy experimental effects) helps the mood really soak in. There’s a contrast at work too though, amidst the film’s themes of loneliness and unrest there shines through a deep emotional warmth, a reassuring grasp on the reins from Brody’s character to seize back a life that was taken from him, and wake up from his nightmare, with help from those around him. A willingness to keep going, to change the course of one’s life when it swerves off track, explored quietly, underplayed in harmony with the seeping discomfort hidden in many of the frames. Part Hollywood thriller, romance, art house flick and psychological horror show, there’s just no other film like it. 

-Nate Hill

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Barry Levinson’s Sleepers: A Review by Nate Hill

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Barry Levinson’s Sleepers is a deliberately paced, downbeat look at revenge, and is one of the most brilliant yet seemingly overlooked dramas of the 90’s. Part of it could have been marketing; The cover suggests blistering violence, confrontation and courtroom intrigue. While there are such moments within the narrative, they live to serve the story, which Levinson and his dream cast are doggedly intent on telling. It’s a sombre affair to be sure, slow and methodical as well, but never to be confused with boring. It’s just such a great story, one that unfolds exactly as it needs to. It starts in the 1950’s, where four young rapscallions run wild on the streets of Manhatten. It kicks the story off with a sort of urban Stand By Me vibe, and if you thought that film went to some heavy placed, stick around through Sleepers. When an innocent prank ends in tragedy, the four are sent to an austere children’s correctional facility, where they run afoul of some sadistic and abusive guards, led by Kevin Bacon, who is scummier than scum itself. They endure months of ritual abuse at the hands of these sickos, until their eventual release. Life goes on, as it must, the four boys grow up and follow very different paths from one another. Michael (Brad Pitt) becomes an esteemed lawyer. Shakes (Jason Patric) lives a quiet life, while Tommy (Billy Crudup, wonderfully cast against type) and John (Ron Eldard) take a darker road to drugs and crime. Eventually their past rears it’s head, and they are presented with an opportunity for much delayed revenge. It doesn’t all play out the way you may think though, and half the fun of this one is being surprised by geniunly lifelike plot turns and characters who behave as real humans would. Pitt is the highlight in a performance of quiet torment. Dustin Hoffman is fun as a washed up lawyer who gets involved, Minnie Driver shows up as a tough NYC gal who gets involved with Patric, Robert De Niro has a nice bit as a kindly priest who counsels the boys even until adulthood, and there’s further supporting work from Jonathan Tucker, Bruno Kirby, Frank Medrano, Brad Renfro, Terry Kinney and more. Levinson usually takes on bright, chipper comedies and razor sharp political satire. With Sleepers he deviates into tragic dramatic material, and shows his versitility excellently. This one gets grim, no doubt about it. However, it’s a story not only worth the telling, but worth the watching for us.