The best drama you've never seen
- Durrkk | Ohio/PA border USA | 03/19/2009
(5 out of 5 stars)
"Released in 1989, "Jacknife" tells the story of Megs (Robert De Niro), a Vietnam vet who looks up an old war buddy in Connecticut. The buddy is Dave (Ed Harris), a bachelor and drunkard who lives with his sister, Martha (Kathy Baker), in their inherited parent's house in the old neighborhood. Dave & Martha's situation has degenerated into lifeless habit and stagnation. Megs doesn't look up Dave because he necessarily wants to but because he has to -- they have a longstanding date to go fishing, a date with much significance.
Kathy is a biology teacher and the classic enabler, a one-woman support system enabling her brother to continue in his miserable cycle of booze/hangover/booze. She's trapped and her guilt will not let her escape, and she knows shes trapped.
There's a scene of Kathy leaving the school at the end of her work day where she goes out of her way to stop at the trophy case and looks at old pictures of her brother when he was a high school hero with much potential. You can feel what she feels as she looks at those pictures.
Dave warns Kathy about Megs -- he's half crazy and has spent a lot of time in the slammer on assault charges, but Kathy instinctively senses that Megs is their catalyst to change, their "delivererer," carbuncles and all. Yet Megs needs change as well, and Kathy is HIS deliverer. Megs is an eccentric outcast and Kathy is his golden connection to a sense of family and community, things he's been running from since he got out of the war 20 years earlier.
Kathy is a bit of a plain jane. Her stagnated lifestyle is reflected on her face. No one invited her to her Prom back in high school and who knows the last time she had a date. Yet on her initial meeting with Megs he just happens to mention she's pretty. This immediately changes her demeanor. When was the last time she felt the warmth of a genuine compliment concerning her looks? She naturally starts to develop love for this man -- a deeply flawed man -- somehthing she hasn't felt for a long, long time, perhaps never. And she slowly starts to blossom.
"Jacknife" is the perfect antidote to modern cgi-laden drivel like "Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull" and "Iron Man." Don't get me wrong, those types of films have their place, like when you're in the mood for mindless entertainment -- goofy one-liners and all. By contrast, "Jacknife" is meaningful and character-driven; suspense is created via raw, unpredictable emotion and outstanding acting (by all three members of the triangle). Take, for instance, the truck-driving scene where Dave and Megs have a confrontation. Megs starts to put the meddle to the peddle as they drive down an incline. Dave had implied that Megs was crazy and now Megs is making a statement. Or is he? Who knows what he's doing?! The truck goes faster and faster and the viewer is uncertain if this lunatic is going to kill 'em both or what.
This scene is potent because it strikes the viewer as REAL. For me it brought to memory a similar situation when my wife and I were traveling through the heart of West Virginia. We drove in silence for a long time, perhaps two hours, and then I completely exploded, screaming at the top of my lungs -- spit and tears flying. Yet I wasn't yelling at her -- not at all -- it went much deeper than that. We were flying down the highway faster and faster while I continued to vent in raw emotion. Then my wife, the epitome of calm and stable, screams out, "IF YOU'RE GOING TO WRECK MAKE SURE YOU KILL US BOTH!!!" That was almost four years ago and, thankfully, nothing like it has happened since. Why do I bring this experience up? Because "Jacknife," albeit a tad stagey (which is natural since it was based on a play), rings so true.
The film was shot on location in the heart of Connecticut in Meriden, Cromwell and Wethersfield (the diner scene). The story obviously takes place in November and the authentic locations are great.
BOTTOM LINE: If you're in the mood for a meaningful, character-driven drama you can't go wrong with "Jacknife."
PERSONAL GRADE: A-"
Charles M. Strnad | Tulsa, OK | 09/14/2010
(5 out of 5 stars)
"I've had a VHS copy of "Jacknife" for many years, and just recently decided to upgrade to the dvd version, now that one is available. Nothing too special about the dvd, though it is a good enough transfer, but this is one little-known movie that fans of dramatic acting will want to have in their home dvd collection. I've been slowly writing reviews to this site about my favorite movies over the years, and after watching "Jacknife" again last night, felt like I needed to offer this review.
"Jacknife" first came out, to almost no notice or popular acclaim, in 1989. I certainly didn't hear about it when it was first released, and only discovered it by chance, many years later, when I bought my VHS copy. Directed by David Hugh Jones, this is a short (102 minute long) but dramatic tour-de-force by 3 actors, each at the top of their game- and the result is a truly remarkable and quite unforgettable film. Based on a screenplay (written for the stage) by Stephen Metcalfe called "Strange Snow", and interestingly originally designed as a star vehicle for Jeff Bridges, the story details a Viet Nam vet ( Joseph Meggesey, aka "Meggs", aka "Jacknife") played by the incomparable Robert DeNiro, who looks up an old war vet buddy (David- in one of Ed Harris' best roles)after they have both returned from the war. Meggs, we find out early on, is honoring a promise made between 3 best friends, who all went to Viet Nam together, to get together for a fishing trip when they returned home. Unfortunately, and at the very heart of the story, the third buddy, Bobby Buckman (a brief screen role for Tom Isbell) did not return from the war. We gradually find out (and no real spoilers here) that Bobby died in an attempt to save Meggs life during a typical Viet Nam firefight, and Dave is harboring a lot of guilt over that event, but for reasons a bit more complex than we are first shown. Dave clearly doesn't want Meggs around initially, though Meggs irrepressible personality immediately fascinates and endears him to Dave's sister Martha (a brilliant acting role by Kathy Baker). Martha, you see, is a self-acknowledged spinster, taking care of the alcoholic, aimless Dave, as they live together in their parent's old home- unable/unwilling to break from their pasts, though for many different, complex reasons. I won't detail the entire storyline, except to say the rest of the story deals with these three characters (Meggs, Dave, and Martha), as they come to grips with each of their past demons, and their individual (and ultimately shared) efforts to deal with their grief.
This movie is set in the context of the Viet Nam War, but ultimately it's a story about how human beings manage to overcome any deep, personal loss. The power of the movie rests in both the intelligent, moving screenplay, and most of all the consummate acting performances by the three principal characters. For a small-scale story, as both a character study and a profoundly moving message about the human condition, "Jacknife" might well be the best dramatic movie I've ever seen. There are only a few, brief flashbacks scenes with any war action in them, just enough to allow us to understand what's behind Meggs' and Dave's ongoing struggles- so I really wouldn't strictly classify this as a "Viet Nam" movie.....perhaps not really even a "war movie" at all. The power in the story rests in the much smaller human battles, waged within the hearts of Meggs, Dave, and Martha.
Robert DeNiro may well be the finest dramatic actor of this generation. I used to think he was somewhat type-cast, though....you know, the Martin Scorcese "tough guy with a New York back-street accent", but this little-known role of his will astound you with the dramatic range and power of his acting. He is totally immersed in the Meggs character, and you'll remember the character long after the credits have rolled. First presented in this movie as a stereotypical "Viet Nam nut case", he emerges as a rather complex human being, filled with pathos and heart-felt soul. It's a memorable performance, and I personally rate it as one of his best, in his long and distinguished career.
Kathy Baker is also perfect as the spinster who gradually (but not unbelievably, I might add) blossoms under the attentions of Meggs. She plays a realistically quirky character, unused to the attentions of men, but with a deep and caring heart for her seemingly aimless brother Dave. The brother-sister dynamics between her and Ed Harris in this movie are simply spot-on perfect, and very endearing. But also very raw, and very real. There are many opportunities in this film for melodrama, and sappy sentimentality, but the three actors (and the exceptional screenplay) simply don't allow that to happen. For such an intense and emotionally gripping movie as this one proves to be, there is perhaps as little Hollywood sentimetality as you will ever see in a movie. And it's the believability of all this that makes it so powerful.
Last but not least: Ed Harris. I can't say as I've ever seen a movie he was in where he wasn't outstanding, but this one may be his best. Don't remember who won the Oscar that year, and I suppose his role as Dave would have been in the supporting actor category, but he SHOULD have won it. He convincingly portrays a blue-collar worker (truck-driver), who has been unable to overcome his personal grief over the loss of his friend Bobby in the war. He's become an alcoholic, physically and emotionally dependent on Martha for his day-to-day well being and care, and he reacts to Megg's initial appearance on the scene with believable distaste.....for you see, Meggs forces him to remember things Dave wants to forget. There are many dramatically moving and powerful scenes in this short flick, but one of the more memorable for me is when Dave makes an impromptu visit to the neat, suburban home of Bobbie's parents, in an attempt to assuage some of his inner turmoil and grief. If you can watch this scene and be unmoved, then you are 100% stone.
The musical score is also very complimentary, with a lone-trumpet track that weaves in and out of the movie, and seems to perfectly capture the loneliness, longing, and yes, hope, within each of the character's hearts. Bad music might have ruined a quiet, reflective movie like this one; in this case, it's just another aspect of the movie that stands out as simply superb.
For those interested to know why this movie garners an "R" rating, there is a fair amount of profanity (as you would expect, I might add, between two blue-collar war buddies), and one scene with sexual suggestion (though no frank nudity) between Meggs and Martha. I have no problem watching this movie with my older teenage children, and I am a father of six. Like everything else in this finely crafted movie, the profanty is never excessive or out of place, and the sexual coupling of Meggs and Martha seems even necessary, and is quite touching. All well done.
The above, and largely for the sake of brevity, is an admittedly poor summary of the masterful acting by the three pricipal actors in this movie. If you've never seen this excellent film, and appreciate adult drama, this is as good as it gets.
Highly recommended, and also a movie that holds its appeal after repeated viewings, and has yet to seem dated, too.
Go, Red Sox
Daitokuji31 | Black Glass | 06/20/2007
(4 out of 5 stars)
"Being a child of the 1980s and having a father who served in the military during the 1960s, a very large portion of the movies I watched with my father concerned the Vietnam War. Some of these films such as Hamburger Hill (1987), Platoon (1986), and Full Metal Jacket (1987) left quite an impression on me and led to me and my neighborhood friends to play "Vietnam War" in our backyards. As time passed though, and with the death of my family's first VCR, I watched fewer films based on the Vietnam War and its aftermath, but during the years in which I was a neophyte cinephile I saw a number of times the cover of Jacknife (1989) which sports the image of a long haired, bearded, Boston Red Sox cap wearing Robert De Niro and became interested in watching the film. However, it was not until a couple of days ago while watching one of the cable film channels with my father that I finally sat down and watched this film.
Jacknife opens with a scene of a cold morning in Connecticut with Joseph Megessey (De Niro) making his way to his friend David Flannigan's (Ed Harris) home for a day of early morning fishing. However, Meg had invited Dave to fish some five weeks earlier, so Dave is stone drunk when Meg arrives. Yet, instead of being locked out in the cold, Meges meets Dave's uptight sister Martha and after a near altercation, the three head off to fish for rainbow trout, or it would be better to say Meg and Martha fish while Dave drinks himself into a stupor. Meg and Martha become fast friends, but it is soon revealed that Dave truly dislikes the boisterously loquacious Meg and wants little to do with the man. However, this dislike stems more from the association of Meges with the death of their mutual friend Bobby in Vietnam than a personal level. Dave is determined to bury his memories in a sea of alcohol, but Meg is determined to make Dave confront his demons, but, of course, Meg has some of his own as well.
Like many films similar to this such as Oliver Stone's Born on the Fourth of July (1989), Jacknife mainly focuses on issues such as Post-traumatic stress disorder and the general reception of Vietnam War Veterans when they returned to America. Harris's character's being is just as much damaged from the events that he suffered in Vietnam as the general reception he received upon his return to America. Instead of finding consolation and help, he found his only solace in alcohol. His being an alcoholic, of course, not only makes him suffer, but those around him as well. Yet, the only way that he can truly help himself is by facing his own demons, but that can be just as frightening as diving into the heat of battle."