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Jacob's Ladder
1990 - R - Mins.
Director: Adrien Lyne
Producer: Alan Marshall
Written By: Bruce Joel Rubin
Starring: Tim Robbins, Ving Rhames, Jason Alexander, Elizabeth Pena
Review by: John Ulmer
"Jacob's Ladder" is an expertly crafted pyschological thriller that messes up somewhere in the second half. It has a great sense of vision, of paranoia. As we watch the film unfold, we want - and expect - something big to happen at the end, something tremendous, for something to explain the film's duration. To explain why everything is happening, and further, whether it even happened at all. But the end dupes the audiences, it withers away, tries to solve too many things in the last five minutes. You may be wondering if the film even solves anything at all by the end. Well, I won't ruin the movie or tell you what happens, but I will tell you instead that nothing much happens at all. I'm not even really that sure what happened, why, or if it happened at all. It's not that I wasn't paying attention - it was director Adrien Lyne. He had a million different interlocking things going at once, and he kept building them and building them, and eventually they caught up with him and he just couldn't handle them, or the answers to unlock them, so he just snapped together a bad ending in about five seconds.

The film starts in Vietnam. A platoon of soldiers suffer a mysterious phenomenon, and their heads start to spin (almost literally). Suddenly, an attack begins, and the soldiers start to get killed one-by-one. A few soldiers remain, including Jacob (Tim Robbins), and a character played by Ving Rhames.

Years later we catch up with Jacob on his casual ride home from work. This day is different, he is on the late subway train home. He snaps out of a dream, and realizes he doesn't know where he is. He wanders over to another part of the train and asks an old woman where they are. She doesn't answer. Then he starts to notice strange things. There are horned creatures chasing him. A subway train nearly runs him over on the tracks, and a million odd faces watch from the interior of the fleeing train.

The next day Jacob is almost run over by a car, which, when he jumps out of the way and looks, is inhabited by goblin-like creatures with rapidly-moving heads. We get a lot of flashes in this movie of spinning heads, and we are led to believe they are nightmares Jacob has. We know they are somehow connected to the spinning heads in Vietnam that day. But as Jacob looks for answers, he soon finds himself slipping farther and farther from reality.

"Jacob's Ladder" is like a bad dream, the strange kind of nightmare you have at night, the kind that make you wake up in a sweat and think, What did all that mean? We never know when the movie is pulling our legging, or when Jacob is having a delusion, or whether they are even delusions at all. Have you ever woken up at night, sat in bed and thought about that weird dream you head? The one where images have suddenly appeared for no reason, punctuating the fear of your illusions? Trying to analyze "Jacob's Ladder" is much the same: It's impossible to really analyze without seeking a professional. Random images of spinning heads and horned demons are spliced with scenes and in the end I just couldn't tell what was going on.

I recently attended a screening of Lawrence Kasdan's "Dreamcatcher," based on the novel by Stephen King. In my review, I said, "Rarely has a film so withered away in the second half as 'Dreamcatcher.'" Well, I guess "Jacob's Ladder" is a rarity, then.
Movie Guru Rating
Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable. Below Average.  Mediocre. Has substantial flaws, but is watchable.
  2.5 out of 5 stars

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