6 March 2007 | gradyharp
The Harsh Realities for Soldiers Coming Home
JACKNIFE is a fine adaptation of Stephen Metcalfe's play 'Strange Snow' (the screenplay was also written by Metcalfe), sensitively directed by David Hugh Jones, that explores the too frequently forgotten effect of battle on veterans damaged permanently by the heinous cruelties of war. It is especially poignant to return to this 1989 film now as we watch the soldiers returning from the war in Iraq and the raw treatment they are receiving in our Veterans' Hospitals.
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