At its center is a portrait of a family torn apart by cancer. Nonsmoker Jack Jordan Sr. (Scott Bryce) has died of lung cancer at the age of 47, presumably brought on by 30 years of breathing his wife Eleanor's (Lucie Arnaz) secondhand smoke. An ambitious Assistant District Attorney (Carlos Leon) brings her to trial on murder charges, and 24-year-old son Jack Jr. (Ryan Homchick) is caught in the middle. The subsequent trial, the role young Jack plays in the proceedings, and the jury deliberations revolve around the questions of who knew what and when did they know it. Unspoken are the obvious political ramifications of the answers.
Arnaz gives a tour-de-force performance as the wife and mother whose only crime was that she was blissfully ignorant (or perhaps not) of the consequences of her actions. Homchick's Jack Jr. is like a puppy constantly on edge from having been beaten by one too many newspapers. The ensemble cast which makes up the jury, veterans as well as newcomers, inhabit their characters seamlessly. To single anyone out is a difficult task. Watch for Adam Ferrara as the maniacal Cassidy, who will not let go of his pro-tobacco stance, and Zach Galligan as Anson, a wide-eyed open book who can play the fool with ease.
"The Pack" cuts back and forth between the flashbacks of the family's past, the trial, and the jury deliberations. If told in linear fashion the film would likely have plodded along at an interminably slow pace. Instead, smart editing decisions placed each jump in time at precisely the right moment, while maintaining just enough consistency to avoid confusion. A careful balance needed to be struck, and kudos to editor Jeff Turboff for pulling it off masterfully. During the deliberation room scenes, cinematographer George Lyon cleverly used slow pans around the table to create a sense of movement where there was none. Occasional jump cuts sliced out the inevitable dead spots. The result puts still life into action -- no small feat.
The look of the film ironically contrasts the carefree days of the family's past with the sad reality of the present. Flashbacks are presented through the use of old home movies, bright and colorful and reflective of the myth we all bought into that secondhand tobacco smoke was benign. Scenes which take place in the present day are filled with blues and grays and give a dull, washed-out appearance, as though the air itself is affected by the cancer which struck down Jack Jordan Sr. The courthouse sets, particularly the jury deliberation room, are as cold and stark as can be.
A bit "Silkwood," "The Insider," and "12 Angry Men" all rolled into one, "The Pack" poses the question, "what if your behavior was legally accepted for dozens of years and all of a sudden it came into question?" The answer is not likely to change many viewers' minds about the dangers of smoking but, perhaps, it will.