Review by James Lindorf
2019 has been a busy year for screenwriter Jeff Buhler. Jacob’s Ladder is the third film of his to be released this year coming on the tails of Pet Semetery and The Prodigy. This time he partnered with newcomer Sarah Thorpe to write the remake of Adrian Lyne’s head-trip cult classic for Director David M. Rosenthal (The Perfect Guy). Jacob’s Ladder is an R-rated thriller starring Michael Ealy (The Perfect Guy), Jessie Williams (Grey’s Anatomy) and Nicole Beharie (42). Vertical Entertainment released the film as an exclusive for Dish on July 25th but will move it to select theaters and On-Demand services on August 23rd.
After the death of his brother, while the two served in Afghanistan, Jacob Singer is finally getting his life together. He has a beautiful wife, a newborn child, and a career as a surgeon in an Atlanta VA hospital. When he discovers that his brother is alive and living in an underground homeless camp addicted to an experimental drug, Jacob’s life starts to unravel. He becomes increasingly paranoid, believing he is being followed by violent attackers who want to conceal the truth about what happened to his brother.
The original Jacob’s Ladder was released in November 1990, and a lot of audience members found the film to be more punishing than pleasurable. The audience showed their displeasure with a paltry $26 million at the U.S. box-office. However, in the ensuing 20+ years the film reached cult status making a remake only a matter of time. Rosenthal, Buhler, and Thorpe were not content with a Gus Van Sant style remake. They took the overall story elements and applied enough twists that make the new version feel like taking surface streets while the original took the highway. They get you to the same destination with a slightly different journey.
Michael Ealy is a tremendously talented actor with a case of bad luck and bad projects in his past. While he may be a recognizable face, he is not quite a household name. For Jacob’s Ladder, he committed fully to his character, selling the action, the anguish and despair required. Jesse Williams, while not quite to Ealy’s level is also good. He has considerably less screen time and spends a large portion of that time in a drug-induced haze.
Unfortunately, for Ealy, this will be another miss. The pacing and the connective tissue within the script do not live up to his performance, that of Jesse Williams, or really anyone else in the cast. The desire to catch viewers by surprise and to present a story as fragile and as scattered as Jacob’s mind overwhelmed the need for cohesive storytelling. The first 10 minutes that introduce the characters and set the story in motion are the most narratively strong in the movie. Once the plot is put into action, the psychological elements go from 0 to 100 and only continue to pick up speed as the film continues. As the story progresses, it becomes increasing disjointed and less interesting. Jacob’s Ladder 2019 will be relegated to disappointing people hoping to watch the original until someone else takes a shot at directing the psychological thriller.