Monday, November 1, 2010

Film Yap: You Don't Know Jack

With a title like You Don’t Know Jack implies this film shall expose a new truth about Jack Kevorkian. His name is basically a punchline today because things have settled down a bit since he was in practice. With this new HBO TV movie, the debate can begin again.

Al Pacino plays Kevorkian, a match that fits so well it’s almost not even fair to anyone else who wanted the part. This is not a biopic. The film begins with him deciding to take his assisted suicide belief to practice. He wants to make his mark on the medical scene.

Kevorkian believes that it is inhumane to have people suffer through agonizing terminal diseases. He believes that if they want to die and are of rational mind, they should be allowed to have that wish granted by a medical physician. Now the film is not preaching this belief, but it is letting Kevorkian make his case.

Unlike other movies that follow a character with a point of view Jack wisely allows there to be plenty of gray area in all directions. The legal opposition is a bit faceless, but at least they have rational points. The film never feels preachy because their portrayal of Kevorkian is warts and all.

Boy does he have warts. He is very arrogant and difficult to control at times. He makes plenty of poor decisions that have serious ramifications legally and personally. The whole journey is so fascinating because of the strength of Adam Mazer’s script. Everything moves at a natural pace without feeling the pressure to include every piece of research that would make this feel like a textbook.

Barry Levinson was in the director’s chair and returned to high form. This is his best film since 1997’s Wag the Dog. Everything is so well crafted while having this dark overtone to the entire thing. Some of the suicides are just heartbreaking and nothing is ever played for melodrama.

HBO has created a standard of making these TV movies that rival most of the Oscar nominated films of any given year. It still hasn’t raised the prestige of an Emmy, but it has changed the Hollywood interest in these projects. It’s no longer just the epic miniseries like John Adams or The Pacific that are gaining interest in big names, but now these smaller films. Not only does this film have fantastic work by Pacino and Levinson, but John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Danny Huston. This movie could have easily played in theatres and been a success.

The DVD is pretty bare aside from a 10-minute featurette where they talk about the real Kevorkian and his unique personality. It’s fun to see Pacino examine him as a person and then cut to the actual Kevorkian, who was speaking a lot like the eccentric man in the movie. In fact all of the cast were rather blunt about Kevorkian, especially his disturbing paintings. I wish it was a longer feature but I’m sure this was played between movies on HBO for months. Still, there could have been more on the DVD.

Film: 4.5 Yaps

Extras: 2 Yaps

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