Pacino ‘To Die For’ in HBO’s “Jack”
Al Pacino delivers a performance to die for in the new HBO film “You Don’t Know Jack.” Premiering this weekend ( frequent re-airings), the film explores the odd odyssey of Dr. Jack Kevorkian, the polarizing figure nicknamed “Dr. Death.” A hero to so many terminally ill patients and their loved ones who sought a dignified death, Kevorkian was a devil to those who deem doctor assisted suicide anathema to God’s plan.
A compelling film, “Jack” is pushed forward by Adam Mazer’s brisk script and Pacino’s best role in years. Pacino embodies Kevorkian, capturing not only his awkward physical traits but his peculiar cadence,abrasive personality and steadfast, compassionate conviction with the sort of masterful precision that has Emmy written all over it. Not since he poured every ounce of pathology and pathos into Roy Cohn in HBO’s “Angels in America” have we seen such a memorable signature Pacino performance.
Kevorkian’s court room antics and publicity stunts astound even his inner circle and add levity to the a dark subject, lightening it with humanity and a whimsical zeal.”Jack” also boasts an A-list roster of supporting players, most notably Susan Sarandon as a Hemlock Society matron, Danny Huston as Kevorkian’s brash attorney Geoffrey Fieger, the ubiquitous John Goodman as the doctor’s flummoxed assistant and Brenda Vaccaro as Kevorkian’s sister Margo Janus.
Director Barry Levinson–whose acclaimed filmography includes “Diner,” ‘Rain Man” and “Wag the Dog” –says he could never have made, “You Don’t Know Jack” for theatrical release. “They’re not doing theses kinds of movies anymore, ” he said in a recent interview. Good thing HBO produces compelling, character driven films. And fuels them with movie star power. From 2008′s “Bernard and Doris” starring Susan Sarandon and Ralph Fiennes as heiress Doris Duke and her butler turned confidante and heir to last year’s multi-award winning “Grey Gardens” which offered amazing star turns to both Jessica Lange and Drew Barrymore as the eccentric Biels, the premiere TV channel is now producing the major league caliber movies you’d rarely find on television even a decade ago. And the sort of films that you rarely find from major Hollywood studios these days.
The real deal–Jack Kevorkian himself– appeared on “Real Time With Bill Maher” last Friday. Pacino’s performance, which garnered the doc’s effusive thumbs up, is so spot-on it’s remarkable. What’s even more amazing is Kevorkian’s resolve and humanity. After embarking on a prison stretch at the age of 71 and enduring it for eight years, Kevorkian was released in 2007. Until the hoopla surrounding “Jack” Kevorkian and his mission were marginalized. But at 82, Kevorkian remains spunky and outspoken, lambasting doctors as “cowards” who “know what’s right but won’t do it.”
And as the nation continues an obsessive conversation on health reform, adding Kevorkian’s powerful and compassionate voice to the mix will both complicate and enhance the volatile dialogue.
Unfortunately, since HBO is a subscription channel, the audience will be limited. However, for those who don’t get it, the the good news is that the channel’s films are generally released on DVD within months of their original air dates. If you’re dying to see it sooner, hit up a pal with the service. Or maybe spring for a subscription. HBO’s offering a lot of killer programming these days.
“You Don’t Know Jack” premieres Saturday April 24, 9 pm ( frequent re-airings) For more information/schedules: HBO.com.