Jacob’s Ladder

Dir: Adrian Lyne, 1990. Starring: Tim Robbins, Danny Aiello, Elizabeth Pena. Mystery/Thriller.
Jacob’s Ladder

A shell-shocked Vietnam veteran “Jacob Singer” (Robbins) finds his sanity begin to crumble as he sees demons coming out of the woodwork, trying to destroy him. He meets up with his old comrades trying to discover what sort of experiments the military did to them.

Bruce Joel Rubin’s screenplay is darkly spiritual and explores the mysteries of the mind. It is shocking, strange, and rides the line of sanity. The script is well structured and has a far darker tone than Rubin’s preceeding film, Ghost. Its use of time and space manipulations to unfold a mystery is very well done.

Adrian Lyne’s direction in Jacob’s Ladder may be his best in a long career. He masterfully navigates a frightening mystery of a man’s soul, presenting a reality that sends shivers up your spine. Clearly influenced by the paintings of Francis Bacon and the photographer Joel-Peter Witkin, Lyne’s interpretation of “demons” is far scarier than if they had donned horns and sharp tails. They are almost human and chase Jacob from the shadows.

The production design by Brian Morris is fantastic in how subtly it captures the 1970s, as well creating some of the scene’s most unnerving visuals. All special effects were done during production, giving a more timeless look rather than most CGI used today.

DP Jeffery L. Kimball shoots the film with a cold color palette and good composition while, as usual, Maurice Jarre provides a score that greatly adds to the film’s narrative.

Tim Robbins (Oscar Winner for 2004’s Mystic River) stars in one of the best leading roles of his career to date. He plays this gentle man in an aggressively ungentle world with such genuine believability that it’s hard not to root for him.

Danny Aiello (The Professional) gives a quiet and reserved performance as “Louie,” Jacob’s chiropractor, who doles out universal life lessons while cracking his neck.

Elizabeth Pena (Lone Star) plays Jacob’s sultry lover “Jezebel” who seems to be hiding something very dangerous from the story’s hero.

Ving Rhames (Pulp Fiction), Eriq LaSalle (TV’s E.R.), and Pruitt Taylor Vince (Copland) give good supporting performances as Jacob’s war buddies.

Jason Alexander (TV’s Seinfeld) is well cast as a high-stress, low-patience attorney Jacob and his surviving Vietnam buddies try to get to sue the Defense Department for top-secret files.

I saw Jacob’s Ladder when I was about twelve and it scared the living hell out of me. And the beautiful thing about the film’s imagery and its mood is that it is still terrifying on review, even once the truth has been revealed.

Posted by:
Seamus Smith
Apr 29, 2009 4:28pm
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