You Don’t Know Jack

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.

The Panic In Needle Park

“God help Bobby and Helen. They’re in love in, Needle Park.”

Well, if this logline from the trailer doesn’t make you want to see this gritty 70s masterpiece from director Jerry Schatzberg, then don’t watch Quentin Tarantino’s Pulp Fiction. You might find, much like I did, that some of the scenes between the “fucked up pooh-butt” Uma Thurman, Eric Stoltz, Rosanna Arquette and John Travolta are homages to Schatzberg’s sophomore film.

Bobby (Al Pacino) and Helen (Kitty Winn) play the epitome of the heroin addict spending nearly the entire 109 minutes of the film roaming around the streets of New York City, looking to buy a hit, looking to sell a hit, looking to fall in love and escape their fate. The film seems to centralize on the fact that they are not getting out of the life they’ve continued to lead without being pulled out. Whether it be by accident, fate, death or arrest, they continue to wait for something to happen to them instead of doing something for themselves.

Kitty Winn took home the award for Best Actress at Cannes for her role in this film, and she deserved it maybe, but it was really Pacino who dominated many of the scenes throughout. Wonderfully shot and directed, I was enthralled till the stark ending. An ending which I must admit sort of took me surprise. I think this film was ahead of its time for 1971, and while it may not serve to affect an audience in the maelstrom of glossy drug addiction flicks that plagued the disillusioned late 80s and 90s, it makes a huge impact if your not yet desensitized to such fare.

For more on Schatzberg, click HERE.