On the day that a serial killer that he helped put away is supposed to be executed, a noted forensic psychologist and college professor receives a call informing him that he has 88 minutes left to live.
In 16th century Venice, when a merchant must default on a large loan from an abused Jewish moneylender for a friend with romantic ambitions, the bitterly vengeful creditor demands a gruesome payment instead.
Dr. Jack Kevorkian (1928 - 2011 ) in the 1990s, when he defies Michigan law assisting the suicide of terminally-ill persons. Support comes from his sister, a lab tech, the Hemlock Society president, and a lawyer. The child of survivors of the Armenian genocide interviews applicants: his sister video tapes them. He assembles a device allowing a person to initiate a three-chemical intravenous drip. The local D.A., the governor, and the Legislature respond. In court scenes, Kevorkian is sometimes antic. He's single-minded about giving dying individuals the right to determine how their lives will end. He wants the Supreme Court to rule. He picks a fight he can't win: is it hubris or heroism? Written by
Love him or hate him, agree or disagree with his stance on assisted suicide, Jack Kevorkian makes for good television. Detroit's "Dr. Death" is a polarizing force in medical ethics, a man who believes that a person's right to self-determination includes the right to decide when enough is enough.
Al Pacino is a dead-wringer for Kevorkian (pun intended), the son of Armenian immigrants who escaped the Turkish genocide. He passionately lives the edict that one must disobey laws one feels are immoral. For Kevorkian, that means helping the terminally ill end their suffering and die with dignity, at a time of their choosing, regardless of its cost to him.
HBO's docudrama shows Kevorkian at his best and worst, compassionate with those who ask for his help, acerbic to the point of viciousness with anyone he considers stupid. Kevorkian is not necessarily a nice man, but he is obdurate when it comes to his principles. We see him argue with prosecutors, walk out on court proceedings, lock horns with his attorney Geoffrey Fieger. Nothing sways him in his zeal for allowing individuals suffering from end-stage terminal illness to decide for themselves whatand when--it means to die with dignity.
The talented supporting cast includes big names like Susan Sarandon, Brenda Vaccaro, John Goodman, and Danny Huston, as well as a slew of less-known actors who portray Kevorkian's patients/victims with heartbreaking realism. Make no mistake, however; this is Pacino's show from start to finish. His physical resemblance to the real Kevorkian is uncanny. He rants, he rages, he cajoles, he sympathizes. He assists and he initiates. It is sometimes difficult to remember that we are watching a supremely talented actor and not the man he is portraying.
"You Don't Know Jack" clearly sides with Kevorkian's viewpoint. It does so, however without sensationalism, nor does it dismiss nor trivialize the opposing side. In other words, "You Don't Know Jack" does what television does best: It entertains while challenging viewers to engage in dialogue about a topic that truly matters.
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