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Three friends went off to the Vietnam War together and only two returned alive: the problem is that while both men suffered in battle the one David 'Highschool' Flannigan (Ed Harris) is so severely damaged by posttraumatic stress syndrome that he 'exists' in a drunken vacuum with his very plain schoolteacher sister Martha (Kathy Baker). As David deteriorates his buddy Joseph 'Jacknife' Megessey (Robert De Niro) returns to the town in an attempt to help his friend. In the course of events Jacknife at first offers succor to Martha and eventually the two date - at a Prom Martha must attend - and at that prom drunken David completely falls apart, destroying relics in the school and terrifying the townspeople and students. Jacknife makes Dave relive the moment in Vietnam when they lost their buddy and in doing so brings David to the point where he can begin his climb toward recovery. And the long-suffering Martha finds her needs tended by Jacknife, too.
All three actors give astonishingly fine performances: Ed Harris offers one of his most fully realized roles while De Niro and Baker maintain the high standards set by their careers. More people should help resurrect this all but forgotten film as it is a brittle reminder of the damages our wars bring to the men who fight them and to the families who receive them after battle's end. Highly recommended. Grady Harp
I missed Viet Nam by one year, my draft number was high enough in the year that the severe de-escalation started. This is not a 'Platoon', or 'Full Metal Jacket'. This film is about a couple of Vets in the years' aftermath. Takes place back in the States, after the War is over. Very few flashbacks were done, but were neccessary to bring context to the film. Ed Harris plays the one person who is in the most pain, and is always on the edge of hurting others because of it. Kathy Baker plays his sister. Robert De Niro was just perfect for the part he played, as he comes into both their lives. It is not a perfect film, or screenplay; but the the actors pull it off. I believe Ed Harris was nominated for a certain award for his efforts (not Oscar, another kind).
You don't have to have been to Viet Nam to appreciate this movie. Though it is about the aftermath of Viet Nam experience, it can also be about Self. About how we have these opposites within ourself and how the best parts of ourself, even though they may be injured, try to reach out and save the most darkest part that we have. That movie describes what I just wrote and I could not avoid tears, myself, toward the movie's end. If you just stay with it; you may know or appreciate what I mean.
DeNiro provides a perfect performance of the character of Megs, who we are not really sure if we should like or if he really is as nuts as Martha thinks he is. Dave reminds Martha several times that Megs is not his friend, just someone he knows. There is a great scene early in the film where Megs has gone out to grab a six pack of beer from his car for breakfast, and he is just around the corner of the room when Dave says this. Megs pauses for a moment and then proceeds into the room with a smile and a huge greeting. It isn't until later that you realize how Megs must have felt when he heard that, having been the one to remember what they had planned to do on this day. It reminds me of the fakeness of the old, `Sure, let's do that,' thing that people so often say to each other, never having any plans to do any such thing.
Ed Harris delivers a wonderful performance as Dave, who never got over the effects that the war had on him. Even so many years later he has not managed to get over the death of a friend during the war, blaming himself to this day for it and thus drowning his life in alcohol, cigarettes, and loneliness. All he wants, he says, is for people to leave him alone. This is not a man who is living his life the way he wants, whether people actually leave him alone or not, he is a man trying to forget that he's alive, to detach himself from the world of the living as much as possible.
His sister Martha reminds me of myself, at least in terms of my roommates. I have two roommates who are 21 and 24 years old, and both act like they still live with their mothers, expecting their messes to just go away when they leave the room for a while. One on particular (the older one, sadly enough), has absolutely no clue how to care for himself, I'm surprised I don't have to wipe his chin while he eats. Martha has to do much the same for her brother, who she waits on hand and foot while he staggers through life from one hangover to the next. Martha and Dave are stuck in a stagnant life and neither of them can get out of it until something major changes, and Dave is the one that needs to do the changing.
I tend to complain about romance in movies where it just doesn't belong about as much as Roger Ebert complains about those pathetic little tension devices, the red digital readout. But in this case, I don't think that the romance that develops between Megs and Martha had any adverse affect on the rest of the movie. On the contrary, it made it that much more interesting, because it was not predictable. The problem with the romantic subplots in Bruckheimer movies and whatnot is that they are so predictable that you just wait for the obvious end to come and hope that something interesting happens along the way. In this case, however, it's not as obvious that something is going to happen between Megs and Martha because we don't know enough about Megs. Martha could be right about him, that he's one of Dave's crazy war buddies and that he's not the kind of man that she should be dating. Dave certainly encourages this idea.
(spoilers) A couple years after this movie, DeNiro did Cape Fear, where he plays a deranged criminal out for revenge against the lawyer that landed him in prison, a character that, in retrospect, makes it pretty easy to think that maybe at the end of Jacknife Martha realizes her mistake, gets rid of Megs, and she and Dave make up because he saved her from a horrible relationship and then he decides to clean up his act because he has done something good for her. I was half expecting this to happen, so I was pleasantly surprised when Martha and Megs wound up together and even more pleasantly surprised when Megs asks Dave all the questions about what they had planned to do after the war was over.
At times this is a slow moving drama, but Jacknife is entertaining along the way and has a huge payoff at the end, which amazingly manages to be sappy without being cheesy. There is an almost excess of emotion at the end of the film that scarcely fits with the rest of the movie, but it is so good that it doesn't dumb down anything that the movie has accomplished up to that point. Everyone involved gives a wonderful performance, and it is one of those rare films that just about makes you want to stand up and shake your fists victoriously in the air.
De Niro and Harris play two Vietnam War veterans trying to come to terms with their lives post the war. Things are further complicated when De Niro gets romantically involved with Harris sister played by Baker.
Wonderfully sedate and intimate, Jacknife, whilst not creating anything new in the "coming home from Nam" genre of film, is somewhat refreshing in how it relies on dialogue and believable character interactions. Some clichés do find their way into the play later in the day as Harris' character starts to come out of is troubled shell, but this is mostly a thoughtful treatment of loneliness and the on going effects of the war. The three up top performances are well delivered, with De Niro unsurprisingly carrying the film with ease.
A box office flop on release, there's a good chance that Jones' film came too late in the Vietnam War movie cycle. It's also safe to say that the slow pace and the dialogue heavy nature of it made it only appealing to a certain demographic of film lovers. It's worth seeking out now as an anti-dote to blunderbuss blockbusters, because it's good film making that has a story that is touching and often humorous, and for many of a certain era, it's all too real. 7/10
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 -- something 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 stagy (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."
Joseph Megessey is a Vietnam war veteran suffering post-Vietnam stress syndrome who is having trouble fitting in with society. He takes on the responsibility of drawing Dave, a fellow veteran now an alcoholic, out of his shell by coaxing him to enjoy life again, as well as urging him to face up to some of his darker memories.
Megs finds himself attracted to Dave's meek sister Martha, who lives with Dave and looks after him. This attraction leads to a love affair, much to Dave's disapproval. Dave eventually vents his anger and frustration at a high school prom where Martha is a chaperon being accompanied by Megs. This leads to Dave finally facing his demons and acknowledging Megs and Martha for being there for him. Afterwards, despite initially ending what was a promising romance, Megs returns to Martha.
This movie is extremely well acted by its performers particularly De Niro, Harris, and Baker.Despite the fact that the movie provides nothing new about the post-Vietnam experience,it still manages to become an eye-opener for the adjustments of Vietnam War soldiers at home.Still worth watching!!!
*** 1/2 (out of 4)
Powerful drama centers on a Vietnam vet (Robert DeNiro) who looks up an old war buddy (Ed Harris) but soon falls for his sister (Kathy Baker). There were a whole slew of war movies during this period but this here is the most overlooked and that's a real shame because it's one of the best. I've heard some refer to it as a continuation of THE DEER HUNTER and there might be a lot of truth to that because this film takes place fifteen years after the war and it's clear with our characters that the horror of Vietnam are still haunting them. The movie is very quiet as it doesn't preach nor does it try to scream some sort of message. Instead we just peek in on these three people's lives and how the Harris character is pretty much dead even though he survived the war. I think what works best here are the performances, which are all rather amazing. I called the film underrated but that's also true of DeNiro's performance, which to me is one of the better ones in his career. Once again DeNiro dives head first into a role and really comes away with a very memorable character thanks to his performance. For the most part his character is out going and energetic even though he has some demons inside him and DeNiro perfectly pulls this off. I especially loved him during his out going scenes where he's constantly moving and dancing around to let off all the positive energy he's trying to give off. Those are the scenes that worked best with me and the ones that the legendary actor pulled off the best. Harris is also wonderful in the film and manages to steal every scene he's in. He doesn't have too much dialogue so the majority of his acting is with his eyes and he really does a remarkable job. Just take a look at the scene where he goes to visit the parents of his friend who was killed in the war. Baker doesn't get enough credit as an actress but she too delivers the goods here. This film has a slow pace, which allows us to get to know the characters, feel their pain and understand how all three of them are trying to grow. The moving hits on some rather dark subjects and has an overall depressing tone. This might keep some people away but that would be a shame because they'd be missing out on a very impressive film with three excellent performances.
The three main characters are amazing. De Niro has done one of his best jobs but Ed Harris is the star of this movie. Possibly,this was his best performance ever.
Ed Harris and Kathy Baker are quietly effective in "Jacknife", an otherwise superficial film by director David Jones.
A cross between "Deer Hunter", "In Country", "Coming Home" and the countless post-war readjustment melodramas of the 1980s, "Jacknife" stars Robert De Niro and Ed Harris as a couple of Vietnam veterans struggling to overcome their traumatic war experiences. As is typical of American movies "about" the Vietnam War, this bloody conflict is reduced to "poor American soldiers" and much romanticised madness. The plight of the Vietnamese is ignored, the political context of the conflict is jettisoned and the war boils down to self-pitying, working class white dudes who struggle with scars. And as with "In Country", released the same year, Jones' message is both familiar and dubious: "you will never quite understand what they went through", we are told, but "be assured that they nevertheless went through it for you". Like "In Country" and "The Best Years of Our Lives", Jones' film then ends with our wounded warriors being healed by a little love and romance.
Still, the plights of veterans is a serious issue. Tens of thousands of Vietnam veterans died from suicide, many more suffered from post traumatic stress disorders, many struggled to readjust to civilian life and today similar conflicts in the Middle East see approximately 22 US soldiers committing suicide a day. Along these narrow lines, "Jacknife" is a sincere and touching film. Harris in particular is very good. Unsubtly scored by Bruce Broughton.
6/10 – Worth one viewing. See "Walker" and "Decision Before Dawn".
However, I think that the acting was outstanding. DeNiro and Harris are truly amazing actors. They totally immersed themselves in their characters and expressed the great anguish of two former friends who lost their best friend Bobby in combat. Harris' character is a half-dead alcoholic, who hides the guilt that he has in Bobby losing his life trying to save his.
I also like the supporting cast. Everyone in the town is part of the movie. The town obviously can't handle Vietnam vets very well. Like many small towns, it is all about being quiet, humble, and minding one's business. Harris' character, however, can't be any of these things. It is interesting how wars effect people. Some people rebound quickly, while others never really recover.