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David Poland

By David Poland

Review – You Don't Know Jack

I thought Barry Levinson might be done.
Homicide: Life On The Street and OZ aside, the last time Barry Levinson delivered a film of some significance, for me, was 1997’s Wag The Dog.
But You Don’t Know Jack is sublime. There was every reason for this thing to go wrong. The story is either too hot or too cold, flipping from historic moment to historic moment. Al Pacino is capable of euthanizing the scenery. Brenda Vaccaro as the second lead?
It all works.
Jack Kevorkian is a small character. He has a big idea and an unshakable conviction, but he is not BIG. And Pacino embraced his quiet. He underplays everything. And he steals – even though he is meant to own – every scene he is in. Even when Kevorkian is going for the dramatic, as when he dresses up as a founding father to go to court, Pacino allows the outfit to wear his character… never a wink… never a Pacino signature.
Brenda Vaccaro, only six months older than Pacino in reality, though decades older than him in “Hollywood perspective,” is perfect here. It’s a rather brilliant stroke of casting, as she is as big as Pacino can sometimes be. He can hide his Kevorkian in her energy. And she plays each moment just right.
Susan Sarandon has her moments. And so does John Goodman, who gets a chance to play the kind of supporting role he played when starting out… giving it all up for his fellow actor.
The cast of actors who play the dying… wow… just plain remarkable.
I guess it’s not surprising that the writer, Adam Mazer, wrote the underappreciated thriller, Breach. That film was written in a minor key, for a thriller. And here, he tells the story of Kevorkian, yes. But somehow, the movie is a quiet plea for Kevorkian’s beliefs… for the right of people to determine their own death.
The film is not without its harrowing moments. There is no celebration of death here. And perhaps someone who believes that this practice is dangerous or barbaric will find that offensive… not enough of “the other side.” But like abortion, I think the argument that people take this lightly is kind of grotesque.
This is the Barry Levinson of Avalon. This is work by Pacino that you really haven’t seen before… maybe in some of the quiet moments of Heat or some of Serpico. And the movie is a sledgehammer that feels like a feather hitting you.

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5 Responses to “Review – You Don't Know Jack”

  1. Nick Rogers says:

    It awaits me on the DVR. If it atones for “Envy” and “Man of the Year,” that will be a mighty accomplishment indeed.

  2. lawnorder says:

    You Don’t Know Jack is a masterpiece. Pacino can clear a well deserved space on his mantel for the slew of awards coming his way – as can Levinson. The real sad thing is that even ten years ago, with a star like Pacino in the lead, this would have been an Oscar nommed theatrical film. Even sadder, I don’t think this film would have made a dime in movie theaters – people just don’t want to go out to the movies and engage with something like euthanasia. There are so many great shots and compositions in Levinson’s film. It’s a class act all the way.

  3. christian says:

    Great to see Brenda Vaccaro again.

  4. David Poland says:

    I am a big fan of the work, lawnorder… but actually, I don’t think it would have been a good feature film. It’s perfect for this medium. As a feature, it would have have had to find a different speed, in my opinion, to work and we would have ended up with some Pacino flourishes, taking us out of the material. But mostly there is something about the smallness of TV that fits, seems to me.

  5. Anthony Breznican says:

    Nice to see you mention “Avalon.” That may be my favorite film. Kind of a weird one to have, but yeah.

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