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Jacknife

Lionsgate Home Entertainment // R // January 23, 2007
List Price: $9.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by David Cornelius | posted February 28, 2007 | E-mail the Author
Produced near the end of the cycle of post-Vietnam films that hit screens throughout the 1980s, "Jacknife" finds Robert De Niro and Ed Harris as two veterans still struggling all these years later to put their lives back together.

Megs (De Niro) is loud and abrasive - they called him "Jacknife" because he loved to wreck trucks. His behavior is often crazy, his scraggly beard and penchant for howling suggesting something has gone wrong inside him. And yet he is quite sane, or, at least, he's working his best to get back to sanity.

The movie opens as Megs arrives early one morning to take Dave (Harris) fishing. Dave lives with his sister Martha (Kathy Baker), a schoolteacher who takes plenty care of him while he wastes his years away getting drunk. Dave wants nothing to do with the world, working long, lonely hours as a truck driver. He's still haunted by the ghosts of the war, mainly the loss of a dear friend.

The plot, as it were, finds Megs and Martha slowly falling for each other, while Megs tries to help Dave find his peace. That's about it, really, as this is not a movie about what happens as it is one about how things happen, and why. These are fascinating, complex characters - the presence of the three stars assures us of this - and their journey to redemption is captivating one.

The story, adapted by Stephen Metcalfe from his play "Strange Snow," gives us familiar moments, most notably a running piece on Dave's efforts in a veteran support group led by Charles S. Dutton. We know how scenes like this will unfold: Dave will repeatedly reject the group's help, only to wise up by the third act. The screenplay is full of rote turns like this (we also get the obligatory flashbacks and a grandstanding finale), but again, this is not the point. We are not here for the big points in the characters' journeys, but the little connecting moments between them.

Indeed, "Jacknife" works best when illustrating a quiet grace. Its roots on the stage show here, with emphasis placed on dialogue and human interaction. All three central characters all slowly, carefully begin to come out of their shells, and the way the trio of stars work together in filling the soft moments is the main reason for sticking with the story long beyond its standard plotting. There is an intimacy at work here that makes this a welcome entry in the coming home genre.

The DVD

Video & Audio


The 1.33:1 full screen presentation is soft, grainy, even a smidge fuzzy, emphasizing the film's low budget and low-key look. Factoring in a workable-if-unimpressive Dolby stereo soundtrack, I would guess this to be the same transfer used in its old laserdisc release. No subtitles are provided.

As for the matter of full screen: I'm coming up blank on original aspect ratio information, although considering the image never looks tight or cropped (yet there's not an excess of headroom suggesting an open matte), it could be that "Jacknife" was indeed filmed in the old Academy format. In all, it looks like it feels - like an upscale TV movie.

Extras

None

Final Thoughts

The movie itself is well worth a look, but so little effort seems to have been put into this release that I can't recommend you do any more than just Rent It. Performances as powerful as these deserve at least a little more attention than what Lionsgate offers here.
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