Jack Kevorkian. Which ever side of his principles you find yourself on, there will still be something you can relate to in this made-for-HBO flick by Barry Levinson. Levinson has a number of comedy-drama biopics under his belt and he knows how to keep this one intriguing. Kevorkian alone is a pretty intriguing guy–let’s be honest, but Levinson’s addition of his comic-relief sidekick in the gregarious John Goodman is a smart touch. Kevorkian on his own accord (as he is at the end of the film), is just a somber man.
Levinson went little overboard with the whole “case-file” style of itemizing the death’s by number. I could have done without that prime-time TV post-production addition. This is really a film that’s all about story, the visuals are relatively uninspired and seem only as interesting as the scene needs them to be. The film is holding itself back from becoming a soapbox, and it’s really about the idea and purpose that Kevorkian found himself attracted to and to which he was ultimately devoted for the rest of his life.
Prison was a mere inconvenience for him and lawyers were of no use as he could see it, he had to be talked into the one he had on his side. I use “on his side” here loosely, as we come to find out that the attorney for Kevorkian through the initial stages of his “assisted suicide” self-made career, was actually less interested in Kevorkian’s cause as he was Kevorkian’s public image. The film feels less biographical and more narrative in its approach as we are thrown into the story at beginning watching Kevorkian as he peers helplessly into the hospital room in which his mother lies. She’s in solitude in the throws of the death-rattle and it becomes immediately apparent that this was personal for Kevorkian all along.
Pretty soon everyone who is close to Jack is either dead, dying or alienated. I believe he was a severely emotional man, one who was easily misunderstood due to his radical thoughts and unconventional view on life and death, and one who wasn’t able to express what he was feeling other than reaching out his hand as best he knew how. As with any great emotional investment in something, when it becomes threatened and has to be moderated, those emotionally involved can and will likely act or appear irrational. Kevorkian himself, grew a little irrational, believing that he was doing something that would take societal hold in a matter of years.
Al Pacino plays Kevorkian to a obsessive-compulsive, dictatorial, heart-warming tee and he and Levinson keep the of-late, overacting effervescence (and spit) to null. Despite the easily enhanceable likeness of Pacino to Kevorkian, it would seem their personas and styles would completely repel; however, Pacino here has made an easily disregarded man very much a man to be regarded. Quickly overshadowed and kept that way since the 90s, his cause is one to be considered for more debate, though it likely won’t see that for some time – if ever. Like many other things in Jack’s life, it appears his cause is doomed to die.