Before I get to the actual review, I just wanted to share a little story with you. On Thursday, with You Don’t Know Jack on the way from Netflix, I decided to play a little joke in my chemistry class because it was a lab day and we would all be wearing our lab coats for the first time. Looking like a doctor with it on, I made a name tag and wrote “Dr. Kevorkian” on it, and stuck it in my chest pocket. Everyone got a kick out of it, including the professor, but just because they thought it was funny that I was pretending to be a doctor, and not about what the name tag said. Excluding my two lab partners, who knew what I was going to do, not one person in the class recognized the name, and whenever someone squinted their eyes to read what the name said, I would say it out loud, hoping to set off a light bulb in someone’s head, but no one noticed. For the two hours I was there, my real last name could have been Kevorkian for all they knew. Needless to say, I died a little inside (no pun intended).
Anyway, on to the actual film, once again HBO comes through with a spectacular special. I actually like their movies better than their miniseries’, and must be one of those rare people who was not crazy over Band of Brothers, but I loved Conspiracy, and thought it was filled with tremendous performances. This one, You Don’t Know Jack, tackled one of the most controversial issues of the 1990’s (if not still today), regarding euthanasia and the rights a terminally ill person has to end their life with assisted suicide. Dr. Jack Kevorkian pioneered the “service” by helping more than 130 patients end their lives.
For someone who was portrayed as an insane serial killer who went around murdering handicapped people in the middle of the night, this movie does a lot to show the truth, and does much to humanize and sympathize with the man who became known as “Dr. Death”. Here we see the thoroughly calculated goings-on that went in to each suicide, including a recorded consultation, signing of consent forms, and then the actual death of the patient. It shows what each person went through, along with their families, and because I had never really thought of this topic before, it really put the idea of euthanasia into perspective. After watching this film, I think I have taken Kevorkian’s side, and that if a person is suffering and is beyond all hope of recovery, as long as they are of clear mind and body and want to make such a decision, who are we to stop them?
This actually shows Kevorkian turning some patients down, either because their illness was not severe enough, or they were too depressed to think rationally. It was hard not choking up while some of the would-be’s told their stories, asking to have their lives ended, including a best friend of Kevorkian, played by Susan Sarandon who was suffering from an incurable Pancreatic cancer. As leader of the Hemlock Society, an organization that supports a person’s right to die, as soon as she developed the disease, she knew she was going to see her friend.
As Kevorkian, Al Pacino does an absolutely fantastic job in his portrayal. Down to the look, walk, and talk (okay, his Michigan accent was a big exaggerated), Pacino does not act like the doctor, he becomes the doctor. I have not seen every one of his films, but from what I have seen, I believe this to be his best performance, and certainly worthy of the Emmy and Golden Globe Awards he won, and the Satellite and Screen Actors Guild awards he was nominated for. Had this been a theatrical feature, my bet would be that he would win an Oscar.
John Goodman also gets decent screen time as the doctor’s medical supplier and camera operator, and was also nominated for two awards. Danny Huston, who you will recognize from the HBO series John Adams, plays Kevorkian’s lawyer Geoffrey Fieger, and gives a decent performance as well, because he has to separate from his personal belief in not siding with assisted suicide, but sticking up for Kevorkian because he believes the law is wrong.
All in all, there were killer performances and scenes all around. The movie was humorous, in showing Kevorkian’s health-conscious eccentricities, his relationship with his sister, played by Brenda Vaccaro, and when he walks into the courtroom dressed like a man from the 1700’s, because he believes the laws are dated, and even makes reference to the inquisition. Yet there is the obvious underlying dark side to this film, because from start to finish, all it is really about is death. There are no gory scenes for those that might be squeamish—the patients are either killed by lethal injection or with a gas mask over there face. I also really appreciate the showing of Kevorkian’s paintings, which are beautifully morbid if I may say so, and show how talented and brilliant of a man he really was, despite being portrayed as a lunatic.
It sticks very close to the facts, and follows him from his first victim all the way up until 1999, when he was sentenced to ten years in prison for murder, after he injected his last victim himself, to prove a point, rather than have the patient pull the plug. I will give this movie an 8 out of 10, and would definitely watch it again. As strange as Pacino is in this performance, he works it to perfection. I highly recommend this film to all who enjoy great acting…and a little bit of 90’s history (was it really that long ago?).