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If you remember the 90's, Dr. Jack Kevorkian needs no introduction. His
name was as much the subject of medical controversy as it was the
punchline of countless jokes. His name was as notorious to some as O.J.
Simpson or Richard Ramirez, yet also as admirable to others as Bill
Clinton or Michael Jordan.
In the hands of many other directors, Kevorkian's biopic could have been treated more like a farce based on the doctor's past eccentricities, such as showing up in court wearing a powdered wig. Of course, Kevorkian's unabashed behaviors in front of camera lenses are depicted in this film, but fortunately, the details of his assisted suicides are not ever given any sugar coated treatments.
"You Don't Know Jack" tells the story about Dr. Kevorkian we should already know. Taking place from approximately 1990-1999, the film takes us from Kevorkian's days of being an unemployed physician to the trial that brought an end to his morally questionable practice for good. The lighting throughout this film is dark and often times dreary, but never dull thanks foremost to an impressive performance by Al Pacino that may be his best since "Scent of a Woman".
When watching this film, there was rarely a moment where I thought to myself, "That's Al Pacino playing Dr. Kevorkian". Pacino's signature eyes and husky voice are still ever present, but he disappears into his role so effectively that I found myself saying, "That is Dr. Kevorkian". Not only is that feat so hard to accomplish for an actor so iconic as Pacino, but it's also hard to play someone who most of the American public knew so well from being on TV all the time.
While it's impressive for Pacino to play the Jack we do know, he plays the Jack many "don't know" with a wry wit that makes an appealing character, even if you don't agree with assisted suicide. A great scene involved Pacino delving a subtle verbal blow to protesters outside his apartment building. When he says that the God he believes in, namely Johann Sebastian Bach, isn't imaginary like the God the protesters believe in, you can't help but laugh. I'm Catholic, and I thought it was hilarious.
However, this movie's strength comes in its nonjudgmental view on Kevorkian's practices. The movie never tells you how you should feel, but also clears up the notion that Kevorkian practiced his assisted suicides with reckless abandon. Many of the suicides in the movie focus on the patients themselves, and their absolute certainty that they want their suffering to end. Of course, leaving their loved ones is their hardest decision, something the film indeed recognizes. Is it still wrong? This movie doesn't tell, nor should it.
What's interesting, though, is the focus on Pacino's eyes during the scene where he performs his first procedure. They move back and forth on the screen as the operation continues, and don't try to mask any emotion of any kind. It could mean that Kevorkian doesn't care about his patients, or that he cares enough about them to keep the procedure as precise as possible. The main point: You decide.
The same is true for Kevorkian's unabashed character on camera. It's all here in this film, but director Barry Levinson resists the temptation for Pacino as Kevorkian to wink and nod at the camera. Considering Levinson directed excellent character-centric comedy/dramas like "Good Morning Vietnam" and "Man of the Year", the temptation must have been there. Fortunately, he used his knack for dramas like "Rainman" and "Avalon" instead, and the effect worked wonders.
The supporting cast behind Pacino is excellent. Danny Huston is fantastic as Geoffrey Fieger, Kevorkian's successful lawyer, and is equally as good interacting with Pacino as he is in the courtroom scenes. Brenda Vaccaro, Susan Sarandon, and John Goodman are great supporting members of this film as colleagues who believe in Kevorkian's mission, but also have the outside vantage point to know what he's inevitably destined for.
Whether you agree with Kevorkian's practices or not, it is impossible not to be compelled by this movie. The story draws you in, the characters are well developed in all the right areas, and it doesn't take more than five minutes for Pacino to convince you he is Dr. Jack Kevorkian. Do you know Jack by the end of this film? I'm still not sure. But I know an excellent movie when I see one, and this deserves 10 stars. See it!
Actors have been known to sit on their laurels. Some would argue that,
with Oscar, Emmy, and Tony as best mates on the mantelpiece, Al Pacino
can do just that. Do we respectfully think that all his truly great
performances are in the past? Godfather, Michael Corleone? Or Scarface,
Tony Montana? Happily we can think again. Seeing You Don't Know Jack,
we know it's the film Pacino fans have waited for.
Opening scenes give us Dr 'Death' Kevorkian. Before he invents his famous assisted suicide machine. I look closely at this point. I have to reassure myself it is indeed Pacino, not a docu-drama cut-in. For Pacino looks more like Kevorkian than Kevorkian does. Face, body language, tone of voice, the works.
The first achievement is to captivate with the character himself. Not the divisive issues he represents. Bypass the hazards of predictable biopics. Or monotonous 'message' movies. This is quality mainstream film-making and at its best. It doesn't seek to change views, and the spiky Mr Kevorkian leaves plenty of room to disagree, isolating himself often from even his own supporters. This is a passionate man who has little time for other people's views in any general sense. "Who cares what other people think?" he exclaims. "It's what my patient feels." This is not the first time director Barry Levinson has astounded audiences. Slick approaches shaking up accepted thinking. Wag the Dog was to be a wildcard that would embarrass Clinton's government. The Oscar-winner, Rain Man, was criticised for creating a misleading stereotype (Is every autistic person a closet savant? Of course not.) But what Rain Man did do was raise awareness. Make it OK to talk openly about autism. And perhaps this is the secret You Don't Know Jack could have a similar effect just because it is just as funny, just as entertaining, just as engaging and just as challenging. We so get many different emotions in fast succession on the screen, until we're primed to consider , "How do I really feel about this?" Real people (including death scenes with Kevorkian's patients) are more gutsier coathooks for feelings than the vague ethical constructs debated in every high school.
If movies learn anything from TV, it's how to keep audience attention. And You Don't Know Jack is suitably punchy. It dismisses any thought of getting up for coffee. No boring arguments for or against euthanasia. None of those Clint Eastwood, long and meditative, 'Million Dollar Baby' moments. Susan Sarandon even brings some of her own caustic lines to a film that often brims over with dark, surreal humour. "Is that Santa Claus stepping on a baby?" she asks casually at an exhibition of Kevorkian's bizarre paintings.
There are powerful performance in abundance, not least from the underrated Danny Huston who plays Fieger, Kevorkian's larger-than-life attorney. (Immediately after the movie first aired, the real Geoffrey Fieger announced he will 'maybe stand again' for governor.) Fieger is a colourful, over-the-top character in real life, perfectly suited to Huston's strengths. After watching Danny Huston's talent wasted in lesser films, such as the well-intentioned Boogie Woogie, it is a joy to see him shine.
Bare-knuckle scenes in You Don't Know Jack are explicit. Both in the physical acts of assisted suicide and in their emotional intensity. Kevorkian recalls his own mother's death to Janet Good (Sarandon). "She told me, 'Imagine the worst toothache in the world now imagine that toothache in every bone in your body." He is almost penniless (for he never charged) and, with scientific precision, he at one point tries to save on lethal gas. He places his emphysema patient in a plastic hood (to catch the gas, rather than using a face-mask). But the patient panics and it is nearly the last straw for friend and assistant Neal Nicol, played effortlessly by John Goodman. Such scenes are not for the squeamish.
The sense of sincerity and conviction which Pacino gives the role could make it rather uncomfortable viewing if you disagree outright. But this intense, yet sidelong glance at a deeply polarising topic, seriously tackled but deftly relieved with a sharp witty screenplay, might just give new life to a debate that suffers from political hubris set against rather static public opinion.
You Don't Know Jack reveals a person a long way from popular conceptions. Even if you read his autobiography and see him in interview, as I have, he was and still is, a hard person to fathom. An egocentric or to use a word he suggested himself a zealot it often seems that Kevorkian believes in himself to the point of being inaccessible. "You're gonna need some business cards you know!" chides his sister. For this driven man who is happy to live on a pittance and then go on hunger strike, the importance of such details can, it seems, easily be missed.
At over two hours long, the movie occasionally verges on repetition. Levinson, back on form after several also-rans, maintains the pace with intelligent humour and inventive cinematography. "You understand what prison is?" Judge Jessica Copper asks Kevorkian, who seems oblivious of the potential consequences of his actions. "Did you see The Shawshank Redemption, Sir?" During the hunger strike, a fast montage of slamming doors and uneaten foodtrays makes an impression on our ears and eyes faster than any amount of words and also provides a welcome change of tempo.
This is cinema of the unexpected. With subject matter that should have been unbankably inauspicious. Yet You Don't Know Jack triumphs to take your breath away. Even without a plastic hood.
What a different role for Pacino! But, he was just as great and totally
brilliant and believable in this quiet but driven, eccentric role as he
usually is in his other roles where he furiously eats the scenery
I wasn't sure if his "Midwestern" accent was a Fargo caricature or if he was merely channeling Chief Dan George in Little Big Man, but it sure was interesting to hear an NYC Italian able to be so believable in his upper midwest accent that was located about 10 miles east of Minneapolis, or close thereabouts. Meryl Streep, move over.
The philosophy of this controversial subject is much more serious. America is so far behind the rest of the world in assisted suicide, as many countries now allow a person to die an assisted death for any reason, with no incurable illness or the like required. All it requires is a waiting period to be positive of the hard decision made. And here we are in the good old retarded USofA, still not allowing the dignified assisted death of terribly suffering and/or terminal souls who merely and quietly want nothing more disruptive than a personal, peaceful, and painless end to their agonizing day-to-day existence. (I totally agree with the rest of the world that it is as much or more an individual decision as is having an abortion and no political or religious entity should have any say in what a person makes up his mind to do in this matter. These intruding entities should not play any part at all in influencing and determining the right and wrong of it, as there is none to a rational thinker.)
All supporting roles were well done, with John Goodman bringing much needed comic relief at times to this achingly serious story. Brenda Vaccaro as the doc's conflicted sister and fellow death-with-dignity proponent Susan Sarandon were truly positive additions to the cast. Direction by the brilliant Barry Levinson was nonpariel and as good as his earlier Rain Man.
I truly hope this film moves the assisted death argument forward in America as it couldn't go any further backward, and more is the pity for that unevolved thinking.
Al Pacino gives an absolutely superb, riveting performance in this 2010
HBO production of the biography of Jack Kevorkian.
While the subject matter is difficult to swallow, especially when the assisted suicides begin, the film is done is an exceptionally intelligent matter that focuses on what Kevorkian is attempting to do in his role as an angel of mercy to assist those suffering with terminal illnesses.
The first person who Kevorkian helped was an Alzheimer's patient. It was difficult to understand why he was doing this since the lady knew that the gardener would be there on Thursday to plant. As the other suicides progressed, you realized the situations that people truly face at the end of their horrible existences.
The film depicted what the far right would do in any effort to get after the good doctor. It also brought out that even with such a terrible ethical question pending, politics is never set far apart in the appearance of Michigan Gov. John Engler.
Susan Sarandon is excellent in the role of Pacino's aide who falls victim to a terminal illness. Brenda Vaccaro is equally good as Pacino's sister, a woman who believed in what he was doing but didn't have the sense to call a doctor when she was suffering a heart attack.
Naturally, the film is all Pacino's. He takes you down the road of justification to show you that he is on a mission. It's a great performance that probably will be rewarded at Emmy Time. Ms. Sarandon and Ms. Vaccaro may also warrant supporting nominations as well.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Director Barry Levinson ('Diner', 'The Natural', 'Good Morning,
Vietnam', 'Rain Man', 'Avalon', Bugsy', etc) has obviously taken a
chance with his latest film YOU DON'T KNOW JACK, a cinematic evaluation
of the notorious and controversial Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the Detroit
pathologist who upon retiring from his career felt compelled to create
a manner for people suffering chronic disease, paralytic illness,
chemotherapy failures, and those pleading to die with dignity to have a
choice as to whether they by law must linger in misery or be given the
opportunity to have a doctor assisted suicide. Whether or not viewers
react positively or negatively to this film for HBO will probably be
tainted with personal convictions about assisted suicide rather than
whether the film is worthy or a diatribe. But that is the still ongoing
dilemma of the topic raised by the elderly Armenian physician's choices
or convictions and one that the film explores well.
As for the film itself, it is a tour de force of acting performances: Al Pacino transforms himself physically and technically to bring the personality of Jack Kevorkian to life. It is a role of so many fine nuances that demonstrates ho Pacino truly does inhabit the title of the film. This Kevorkian is shown to be a man driven to be an outspoken activists for human rights - especially the right to die. His sister Margo, played to perfection by Brenda Vacarro, is the lonely Jack's sole source of emotional support, while his old friend and hospital medic Neal Nicol (who technically assists Kevorkian) is made a three dimensional person by John Goodman. Another supporter is the Hemlock Society worker Janet Good, another fine role for Susan Sarandon, and Danny Huston (almost unrecognizable in a wig) is Jack's pro bono lawyer Geoffrey Fieger. The technique used by Kevorkian is to interview people who approach him pleading to end their lives (some have tried regular suicide attempts before), make a video of the patient and family requesting assisted suicide, be sure the family and patient are serious and ready and only then provide the service with a contraption loaded with sedative and KCL that is triggered by the patient. Many of the actual patients are reenacted by a cadre of fine actors in scenes of pleading that tug at the heart.
Kevorkian is placed on trial by the courts in Michigan and finally after 133 assisted suicides is sentenced to prison - but not until after frequent jailings accompanied by Kevorkian's hunger strikes have resulted in his being released due to the finesse of his lawyer. Though Kevorkian has a large number of people who feel he is a cruel serial killer, this film presents the more human side of a man motivated to provide an alternative to patients suffering the lingering agonies of medically approved slow deaths. There are several tender scenes in this film, but the one that is a triumph of writing and acting is a conversation between Sarandon and Pacino as to what happened in Jack's childhood that began the idea for his mission. If viewers can get past their personal issues with the subject, then they will be witness to a superb film and terrific acting that will likely lead to an Emmy for at least Pacino. Watch this and learn.
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.
Throughout the history of Mankind, there are a plethora of unique individuals who stand as giants as they have changed the world. Columbus, Gailieo, Copernicus, Darwin and Einstein, have all fought a prevailing notion of a given era. To this famous list one can add the dedicated Dr. Jack Kavorkian. Born May 26, 1928 is an American pathologist, right-to-die activist and painter. His life is the center of this movie called " You don't know Jack. " Al Pacino, who bears an astonish resemblance, plays Dr. Jack Kevorkian and does an incredible job. Other notable thespians like Brenda Vaccaro, Susan Sarandon, John Goodman and Danny Huston all appear like towering pillars in a magnificent temple. Together their performance allows the audience to view the good doctor in his Herculeion task of establishing a man's right to die. Despite being ostracized, ridiculed, vilified, hounded and even imprisoned, Kavorkian continued and in the minds of millions of rational people, his struggle established the precedent for humans, not a puritanical government, to chose the time to die. Pacino's performance is exceptional and this movie will become a Classic for future audiences. Recommended to anyone willing to listen. ****
"You don't know jack" is one of the greatest movie of 2010. It Shows the life of Jack Kevorkian. If you remember the 90s than you should have a picture of Dr Jack Kevorkian in your mind. He was just as famous as any movie star. He was the daily subject of medical discussion, The Movie Shows what truly was the intention of Dr Jack Kevorkian and how he released countless people from their misery. Barry Levinson directed the movie amazingly, and as for the performance Every one performed excellent. But Al Pacino Truly stole the show, he proved why he is considered the greatest of all time by many. He lost over 20 pounds for this movie and developed a physique so different than what he originally posses. Its amazing that he was able to pull of such a physically demanding task at the age of 70. AL out did himself with each and every scene. John Goodman, Brenda Vaccaro, Danny Huston, Susan Sarandon, Cotter smith and Logan all did outstanding job in this Epic movie. You don't know jack has all the elements to keep a movie fan at the edge of their seats. If you haven't had the opportunity to see this amazing movie than i strongly suggest you see this movie and you will realize why its such a phenomenon.
I've seen "You Don't Know Jack" twice now and will certainly watch it several times more with friends coming to watch my DVR HD recording of this HBO TV movie. It's not easy to watch the harrowing scenes of terminal patients in great distress. But with an outstandingly intelligent script, first-class cinematography and stellar performances by all the actors it becomes compelling viewing. Like Marion Cotillard's portrayal of Edith Piaf in "La Vie en Rose", Pacino's incredible performance will leave us with the feeling that he has indeed become Dr Kevorkian for us. His powerful acting gains pace as the movie progresses until the final dramatic courtroom scenes end the remarkable story of a pioneer eccentric's human rights obsession. While overtly sympathetic to Kevorkian, all sides of the arguments for or against assisted suicide are fairly presented and leave one thinking about the subject for days. In addition to Pacino's tour de force role I think that Barry Levinson's inspired direction brings this movie to masterpiece status. I hope it will be released on DVD soon so that a much wider audience can see it.
HBO for one has always been the champion and best king of all-time when
it comes to showing original movies, and once again they delivered a
gripping and touching docudrama that will long stand in memory. Al
Pacino who is always brilliant delivers once again a stand up and cheer
for performance(the same way he did with his last HBO work as right
wing republican closeted homosexual attorney Roy Cohn who died of
AIDS). Pacino who was made to look just like Dr. Jack! Captures the
man's movements and actions just perfect and so wonderfully done is his
take of Kevorkian's proper northern Michigan accent. Still at the same
time Pacino plays this character with some mystery as clearly the role
didn't call for any showing off.
Directed by Barry Levinson(who did the award winning 1988 "Rain Man")this is a film in my opinion was a Dr. Jack against the world attitude. As clearly while watching this docudrama which is blended in with some real life media interviews of Jack's like the ones with Mike Wallace and Barbara Walters you get the feel that this film is a good cultural flash of somewhat of a media circus. Still most telling is the stubbornness of Jack as his desire to provide alternative deaths for the terminally ill outweighs anything else the films shows.
It starts in the early 1990's in Michigan as Dr. Jack Kevorkian(Al Pacino)who's bored and living like a lonely hermit with his creepy art drawings and enjoyment of watching Bugs and Tweety cartoons. All of a sudden Jack has an ideal to take the medical community by storm should I say a death storm, he wants to start assisted suicides to the sick and terminally ill and also for those who don't want to live no more. Dr. Jack is aided and supported by his sister Margo(Brenda Vaccaro)and buddy Neal(John Goodman)and enter the outspoken advocate Susan Sarandon who plays euthanasia crusader and right to die advocate Janet Good.
Along the way in a compelling and gripping fashion Kevorkian and his friends carry out death after death of those with terminal cancer, MS, the crippled, the depressed and many others who have deadly diseases. And along the way this man who feels so passionate about it he even records speeches and the actual passing away of his victims. One by one "Dr Death" gets America's attention which stirs up controversy in Michigan from the religious right and state politicians and county legislatures. Gradually the film drifts into more of a courtroom drama asking what is morally right or wrong? It's interesting and entertaining to see an old fart fight stubbornly till the age of 79.
So no matter your take on euthanasia(even though this film is pro argument for it)"You Don't Know Jack" is a lovable story that is sold wonderful from the great performances especially Al's who's right on the money and believable as "Dr. Death". It's really a great biography that educated us about the life and stubbornness of Jack Kevorkian, while at the same time an interesting, compelling and dark outspoken anti-hero docudrama that makes some want to feel grim and others want to cheer depending on what side of the aisle they take on the issue. A must see film that's controversial, historical and cultural.
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