Friday, February 11, 2011

You Don't Know Jack

The opening of Al Pacino's bio on IMDb refers to him as "one of the greatest actors in all of film history", but it seems like many regard him as over-the-top. In You Don't Know Jack, the second HBO series where he has played a largely reviled figure in recent American history (the other was Roy Cohn in Angels in America), reminds us what a refined actor he is in his portrayal of Dr. Jack Kevorkian. The film begins with the pathologist witnessing the suffering of patients in a cancer ward, and devising the idea of his "mercy machine" to aid in the deaths of his suffering. With his friend Neil (John Goodman) and sister Margot (Brenda Vaccaro) and with the guidance of a group leader (Susan Sarandon) who shares his belief, he begins recruiting, interviewing, and administering lethal injections, all the while, with the help of his attorney (Danny Huston) battling the Detroit courts that seek to incarcerate him. Directed by the veteran Barry Levinson, You Don't Know Jack is an engaging film that takes an objective view of a controversial subject, siding with Kevorkian. I think this is the right approach, a subjective view would have come off more like a documentary. I did think the film suffered from the constraints of the biopic. I liked how it seemed no exaggerations were made in the telling, but the story hurts from redundancy and the described plot above it about all we get over and over, aside from a few side dramas. Still, it is an acting showcase with Pacino leading the way in a wonderful performance as the neurotic and delusional doctor. Supporting players are fine as well notably Goodman and Sarandon who never fail to impress, and even Danny Huston, whom I've always liked but never thought of much of as an actor, shows some range while sporting a mop top. Brenda Vaccaro, who is an Oscar nominee I am not familiar with is delightful as well. You Don't Know Jack is not a knockout, but it is still an engaging film worth watching for the performances.