Friday, June 9, 2006

Movie Review: Jacob's Ladder

Or: "Hey, seeing Tim Robbins butt-naked would drive anyone crazy."

Ugh. No cookie for this one.

Once again, my taste for "rubber reality" psychodramas has led me to a film that starts up well enough and falls painfully flat at the end.

Jacob Singer is a survivor of the Vietnam War - he was seriously injured in a mysterious attack, and left for dead. An unknown amount of time later, he's in New York, working at the Post Office, living with a woman after divorcing his wife, and dealing with the premature death of his youngest son. Things seem to be going well, until Jacob starts seeing creatures that can only be described as demons - they follow him, they terrorize him, they get into his head and trap him in horrific hallucinations. And his flashbacks keep leading him back to that attack in Vietnam.

From what I've seen, this movie gets a lot of praise for going against the convention of delivering a straight denouement to the mystery. But that's not what actually happens - we do get a perfectly reasonable, rational explanation for what's going on, and then it's tossed out the window in favor of a decidedly less-straightforward resolution. And... well, it just doesn't work. The penultimate revelation makes too much sense, as it were: we're led to believe that Singer and his troop were exposed to a mind-altering substance, causing them to turn on each other - that substance is also responsible for his waking nightmares, his temporary bouts of insanity, his sudden fevers... all very nice and neat. Then, in the last five minutes of the movie, everything goes spiritual, and we basically get a "Sixth Sense" ending where Jacob's visions were actually delusions within delusions. And it's just too much to attribute to a single man's mind.

The acting is generally okay; Tim Robbins plays the part of the hysterical and tortured veteran rather well, though I could have gone the rest of my life without seeing his flabby ass. Most of the other characters don't hang around long enough to leave any kind of impression except for the uncredited Macaulay Culkin, who was young enough (and silent enough) to still be considered cute.

It would have made a great movie, if Adrian Lyne hadn't insisted on pulling a David Lynch on us at the last minute - as it stands, "Jacob's Ladder" is guilty of being deliberately obscure for the sake of pretense, of appearing to be more unfathomable than it really is.