In Vietnam, Jacob (Tim Robbins) was subjected to arduous conditions, untold levels of stress and tension. As part of a small platoon who found themselves gassed, attacked and ultimately bayoneted, Jacob was found bloodied at the scene as others around him spasmed, vomited convulsed, and died.
Now years later in is hometown New York City, Jacob struggles to deal with the real world. He mourns a lost son and looks to forget his pain through working long hours as a postal worker and seeking solace with his girlfriend and colleague Jezzie (Elizabeth Pena).
Jacob might seek to avoid stress but it has a way of finding him. He sees things others do not. Random strangers spout gibberish, or worse, tails or extra appendages. Others seem far more threatening and confrontational. Jezzie tries to understand. She wants to understand. But she cannot, and with the incidences increasing in frequency and severity, she wonders if she ever will.
The film revolves around Robbins and Pena, both of whom throw themselves into difficult roles. Danny Aiello and Ving Rhames both appear in brief but important roles.
Jacob’s Ladder is a brave and uncompromising film. It reveals what it wants when it wants. It then occasionally changes the reality, and never apologises when it does. If you cannot follow then that is to be forgiven. This film sometimes steadfastly wants not to be understood. There is a long and disorienting sequence where Jacob is pushed down a hall on a gurney that steadily increases in terms of weirdness and macabre imagery. Like this sequence the film itself is disconcerting and discombobulating, but never less than compelling.
Final Rating – 8 / 10. Like Angel Heart from the same era, Jacob’s Ladder is bold, unique and uncompromising. There aren’t enough films around like this any more.