Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Wear Your Thinking Cap With Pacino in "You Don't Know Jack"

It took me some time to get myself to watch Barry Levinson's "You Don't Know Jack". It just felt too heavy that it may just weight down your day. But when I finally did, I couldn't leave my seat. The best part of it is how it presents arguments that don't dumb down its audience, and for the most part, I am grateful to the genius of director Barry Levinson (who used to do high-profile movies) - and the performance of a great cast headed by actor extraordinaire, Al Pacino, who already won an Emmy and a Golden Globe for his role here.

The story follows the heroic persuasions of a 61 year old pathologist, Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino) who has taken it upon himself to devise methods to help terminally ill patients end their suffering - "assisted suicide". In the state of Michigan, euthanasia (mercy killing) is still a crime, but not the act of assisting persons who wish to end their lives. Some 130 clients later, Kevorkian further provokes the law by performing a documented active euthanasia on a person with Lou Gehrig's Syndrome or Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a debilitating and ultimately fatal neuromuscular disease.

Kevorkian does present a valid argument, but right in the midst of things is the basic principle of the sanctity of life and its preservation - that no person possesses the right to take another life, although this has basically been debated upon by those who advocate the death penalty. I am of the old school that stands on the precept that a physician heals, not kills, regardless of any reason for terminating a life. When the tough gets going, do we carry the right to terminate it?

Fact is, we never know for sure, unless we find ourselves in the same situation as the other 131 patients. Kevorkian paid the price - and he paid dearly - 8 1/2 years in prison - for challenging the law. And for someone who's supposed to be smart, he overestimated himself. Otherwise, why would his loyal assistant (John Goodman) and his lawyer friend (Danny Huston) refuse to participate in his final Solomonic act?

This HBO production got 15 nominations at the Emmy's last year, and won for Mr. Pacino the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movies. Other acting nominees from this film include John Goodman, Susan Sarandon and Brenda Vaccaro (as Jack's sister).

Not to be missed!

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