Combustible Celluloid
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With: Al Pacino, Brenda Vaccaro, John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, Danny Huston, James Urbaniak
Written by: Adam Mazer
Directed by: Barry Levinson
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Running Time: 134
Date: 04/14/2010

You Don't Know Jack (2010)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Dr. Death

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Directed by Barry Levinson, this biopic of Dr. Jack Kevorkian aired on HBO in April and received 15 Emmy nominations, including a win for Al Pacino as Outstanding Lead Actor. Pacino is the real selling point here. He creates a three-dimensional portrait of a stubborn, intelligent and caring man, and it ranks among his all-time best work. Joining him onscreen, Susan Sarandon, Brenda Vaccaro (as Jack's sister Margo), John Goodman, and Danny Huston are all superb.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino) lost his license to practice medicine, so he begins providing doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients who can no longer stand their intense pain and suffering. (The patients must take the final step to start the process.) Occasionally, he is arrested and tried, but his fast-talking lawyer Geoffrey Fieger (Danny Huston) protects him. Nonetheless, Kevorkian faces opposition no matter where he goes, so he decides to take his case to the Supreme Court by filming himself actually ending a patient's life and airing it on "60 Minutes." This attracts plenty of attention, but perhaps not the kind that Jack intended. John Goodman, Susan Sarandon, and Brenda Vaccaro co-star.

The teleplay by Adam Mazer (Breach) is excellent, providing some breathing room among the news-worthy events of Kevorkian's life and giving some life to the people around him. Unfortunately, it fails to give much weight to Kevorkian's opponents, and they come across as simple villains. Director Levinson provides some stylish angles and sequences, but his real achievement is shaping Pacino's performance and keeping the material fresh and passionate. It's a powerful experience.

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