It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
There is a sense in which "Jacknife" is a continuation of "The Deer Hunter," the 1979 movie in which a group of friends from a working-class town in Pennsylvania went off to fight the war in Vietnam. "Jacknife" begins 15 years after the war is over and it takes place in a small town in Connecticut, but many of its shots and moods feel the same as in the earlier film, and the theme is the same, too: the idea that if your buddy gets left behind, you have to go back and get him.
The buddy who gets left behind this time is named Dave (Ed Harris). He doesn't get left behind in Vietnam, though. He gets left behind in the America that he has returned to. While other veterans return to jobs or families or education, Dave returns to a life that is empty except for the booze and the cigarettes that keep him company in lonely bars.
Dave lives with his sister, Martha (Kathy Baker). She is a schoolteacher, in her 30s, and her life is on hold. Months pass into years in the house they inherited from their parents, where Martha's role is to put Dave's dinner on the table, do his laundry, change his sheets, give him money from time to time and accept him exactly as he is. Her problem is, until Dave's life changes, hers cannot change, either. She is a classic case of an enabler; she's a one-woman support system allowing Dave to continue to drink and throw his life away.
The buddy who comes back to rescue Dave is named Megs (Robert De Niro). He doesn't have to come far - only across town. He turns up early one morning to remind Dave they have a date to go fishing together. It's a long-standing date, with a lot of significance to it, but we don't learn of the significance until later. Dave is in bed with a hangover, but Martha lets Megs in. He has never really noticed her before; maybe he's never even seen her. Now he likes what he sees.