Angel of mercy… or murderous “Doctor Death”? Jack Kervorkian is one of the most polarizing figures in modern American history, a man whose passionate belief that people have the right to die has brought him both praise and vilification. Oscar®- and Emmy®-winning actor Al Pacino brings “Dr. Death” to life in an all-new HBO Films presentation: You Don’t Know Jack
, directed by Oscar®-winner Barry Levinson.
Made for HBO, Barry Levinson's sympathetic telefilm casts an affable eye on a serious subject: the mission of Jack Kevorkian (a thoroughly de-glamorized Al Pacino). In the opening sequence, Kevorkian tells his long-suffering sister, Margo (Brenda Vaccaro, excellent), how hard he found it to watch their mother die a long and agonizing death. Convinced that the terminally ill deserve the right to die with dignity, he shares his beliefs with Jack (James Urbaniak), a Detroit journalist; Janet (Susan Sarandon), a Hemlock Society leader; and Neal (John Goodman), a medical supply salesman (the scenes of Neal and Jack playing poker recall Levinson's Diner
). Before he's assisted a single patient, Kevorkian makes the national news, prompting Neal to quip, "You're not a local quack anymore. You're America's quack." Writer Adam Mazer profiles several of the 130 patients to take advantage of his "mercy machine," starting with Janet Adkins, who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. For protection, Jack acquires the services of attorney Geoffrey Fieger (Danny Huston), who supports him through evictions, lawsuits, jail time, and hunger strikes--until Kevorkian engineers his own downfall by defending himself. As with HBO's Recount
, Levinson adds archival footage at key points, such that Barbara Walters and others appear to play themselves. If he handles Jack's quirks with humor, he always treats the afflicted with respect, and if Pacino's accent skews more New York than Michigan, his pleasure in playing this strong-willed eccentric fuels Levinson's finest directorial effort in ages. --Kathleen C. Fennessy