Jack Kevorkian wants you to die… on your own terms. The advertising campaign of this HBO TV film is just as provocative as the film itself. You Don’t Know Jack tries to shed some light on the complex story of Jack Kevorkian, a doctor who assisted in the suicide of 130 of his patients. Is this a medical or criminal practice? The religious right, and several opportunistic politicians, accuse Jack of the latter. But the film is more concerned with studying Jack’s character, over what type of man would back euthanasia so vehemently, than providing an answer to the question.
The film is lifted almost entirely by Al Pacino’s performance. He is clearly one of the greatest actors of all time, and perhaps the greatest actor alive today. You Don’t Know Jack provides him with a new challenge. And Pacino delivers. And a terrific support cast provides credibility to the story of such character, even when the story is based on true events.
Kevorkian assisted in the suicide of 130 of his patients; at the time, and still today, assisted suicide falls in a very grey area within the law. Is it murder? Kevorkian avoided this question by recording, the confessions of his patients, their loved ones, and by allowing the patient to pull the plug himself. In the end, Kevorkian was simply providing the means for them to do so but didn’t really partake in the action. Also he claims to have denied well over 95% of the people who approached him. This, however, is not enough for some and Kevorkian is still indicted with murder. What follows is a series of trials as Michigan’s government tries to convict Kevorkian. But the doctor is too smart for his opponents. When they do convict him, he goes in a pseudo-hunger strike for nineteen days; his aim was to challenge and accuse the legislation by assisting in his own suicide.
You Don’t Know Jack will not make you like the character in any particular way. But you will understand his struggle regardless of your opinion in the matter. It lets you decide for yourself on whether Kevorkian is worthy of the title Doctor Death, or if he truly is an agent of mercy. Besides Pacino’s acting this is probably the film’s main strength.
The film was an HBO release of TV, being well over 140 minutes it was divided into two parts, but the DVD is now out as well as the iTunes rental. If you get two tired of robots smashing this summer on the big screen, You Don’t Know Jack is a worthy alternate. Is it just me, or is TV generally considered the lowlier of the two mediums slowing becoming a refuge for high-brow material?