Directed by: Barry Levinson
Premise: A dramatization of physician Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino), an advocate for doctor assisted suicide who was prosecuted by the Michigan state attorney general’s office.
What Works: You Don’t Know Jack is a great film and one of the best pictures Barry Levinson has ever made. Levinson’s work has consistently been political with films like Wag the Dog and Good Morning, Vietnam, but in You Don’t Know Jack he is able to balance the expository political content with a full-fledged character study. The course of the film charts Kevorkian’s rise from a little known local physician to a national figure and You Don’t Know Jack smoothly expands its scope with the increasing public prominence of its subject. And Jack Kevorkian makes for a fascinating subject. The film does not deify him. In fact, it exposes some of Kevorkian’s faults and smartly allows the character to trip over those faults, turning the plot of the film mostly on Kevorkian’s mistakes. Al Pacino plays Jack Kevorian and it is one of Pacino’s best roles in many years. Something refreshing about Pacino in this film is that he plays Kevorkian with restraint. Pacino’s acting style, which over the past few decades has descended further and further into camp, is tightly controlled in You Don’t Know Jack and when he does finally explode in the final trial of the film, it is a startling expression of passion. Complementary to Pacino’s performance are the roles that surround him such as Susan Sarandon as euthanasia advocate Janet Good and Danny Huston as attorney Geoffery Fieger. Sarandon and Huston’s characters are often sympatric but exasperated by Kevorkian and their presence helps to balance the film’s study of Kevorkian’s activism. You Don’t Know Jack is helped by its sensitivity to the subject matter. The film never loses sight of the gravity of the subject matter and treats it with the respect that it deserves.
What Doesn’t: If You Don’t Know Jack is lacking any area it might be in the ending. After the events of this film, Kevorkian has continued to do various kinds of work and the film misses out on some of those other interesting inroads to the man’s life. But its finale does bring the themes and plot lines of the story to a reasonable conclusion.
DVD extras: Commentary track, featurette, trailer.
Bottom Line: You Don’t Know Jack is a terrific study of a man and a controversial issue. This is a very satisfying and thought provoking film about ethics and activism and its portrayal of Kevorkian allows Al Pacino one of his best performances in years.
Episode: #314 (November 7, 2010)