I misunderstood this film when I first saw it in its 1990 theatrical release. Then I picked it up on laserdisc several years later, and upon rewatching it (and the helpful supplementary materials), I finally got it. I just found a $9.99 DVD copy, brand new, at Blockbuster and decided to pick it up. Up until now, I'd purposely avoided buying the DVD because it was missing the extras -- feature-length director's commentary, a good making-of documentary, and several significant deleted scenes -- that are on my laserdisc copy. But for less than $10, I decided I wanted this film in my DVD collection.
As it turns out, this DVD has the most uninformative (disinformative would be more accurate) packaging I've ever seen. It actually does contain all of the extras from the laserdisc, but not a single one is listed on the packaging so there's absolutely no way to know this from the outside! That was a pleasant surprise.
The other surprise came when I rewatched the film last night. Wow. Maybe because this time I knew the "correct" interpretation of the events from the very first frame, I was finally able to fully appreciate how spectacularly well-done this movie is. It is one deliciously surreal, moody, and at times genuinely scary movie. It just bumped itself up into the upper eschelons of horror films for me, easily laying claim to a spot in the top 10 of my all-time favorite horror movie list. It is exceptionally well done. Especially so since just two nights ago I rewatched Mulholland Drive, which also is a heavy utilizer of surrealism. But Mulholland Drive's inane loopiness does not compare to the intense, moody, purposeful mindwarp that Jacob's Ladder pulls off. The film's only weak spot (and it's a biggie, unfortunately), is an overly didactic explanatory scene near the very end. But I forgive it because up until then, it is unrelentingly strong.
And a what a cast! Tim Robbins is outstanding in the lead role, as is Elizabeth Peña who manages to be surrealistically sexy, appealing, and menacing, sometimes all at once. And the supporting cast is filled with actors who would later become big names in their own right: Jason Alexander, Danny Aiello, Ving Rhames, and Eriq La Salle. This movie has a non-linear structure that makes Pulp Fiction look conventional. The use of sound and the primally frightening imagery is astonishingly good. And the Maurice Jarre score captures both the melencholy sense of loss and the religious-overtoned sense of the spirit world folding over into our own.
Most enthusiastically and highly recommended.
Other reviews by Ray Cole: [Movies] [Music]