Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You Don’t Know Jack: Grade B


You Don’t Know Jack (2010)

Al Pacino, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman, Danny Huston, Brenda Vaccaro; Director Barry Levinson.

Pacino plays Dr. Jack Kevorkian, aka Dr. Death, in this worthy HBO biopic. Kevorkian’s last years are shown, when he’s in his ‘70’s and decides to make a national issue out of doctor-assisted-suicide, to help those with terminal illness end their suffering and their lives with dignity.

This is definitely a pro-death with dignity message. Kevorkian is shown as quirky and egocentric, but compassionate and dedicated to his patients in the cause of the right to die point of view. The other side of the argument (which seems to be that “God would not approve”) is not presented except to show angry protesters shouting and carrying picket signs. I’m sure there is a reasoned argument to be made for the other side (although I don’t know what it is), and this would have been a better movie if it had not been so one-sided, because it is ultimately an “issue” movie. The biographical material about Kevorkian is sketchy and there’s no telling how accurate it is.

Pacino gives a terrific performance. It is nice to see him act again instead of just barking and hamming and mugging around. He’s still got it. Sarandon is, as always, compelling. She just is a convincing person. And it is nice to see Vaccaro on the big screen again. Cinematography has a few moments of artistry, but this is a TV show after all so the directing and photography are in your face and whap on the side of the head obvious. But the strong acting raises it above mediocrity.

It would be a good picture to show in a high school class to stimulate discussion. It’s a shame this is still a controversial issue. Kevorkian was released from prison in 2007 and we still have only two states that legally admit that “Dying is not a crime.”

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