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You Don't Know Jack
A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that You Don't Know Jack is a biopic about the controversial Dr. Jack Kevorkian, who made headlines in the 1990s for advocating doctor-assisted suicides in the case of extreme pain and suffering. This is strong material, and the movie makes a passionate, logical argument for Kevorkian as a kind of forward-thinking hero, while at the same time not giving much voice to his opponents. Language is strong ("f--k" and "s--t"), and there are some disturbing images of suffering and death. Parents should be prepared to share their views with their teens on this hot-button issue.
What's the story?
In the early 1990s, Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Al Pacino) lost his license to practice medicine, so he begins providing doctor-assisted suicide for terminal patients who can no longer stand their intense pain and suffering. (The patients must take the final step to start the process.) Occasionally, he is arrested and tried, but his fast-talking lawyer Geoffrey Fieger (Danny Huston) protects him. Nonetheless, Kevorkian faces opposition no matter where he goes, so he decides to take his case to the Supreme Court by filming himself actually ending a patient's life and airing it on 60 Minutes. This attracts plenty of attention, but perhaps not the kind that Jack intended.
Is it any good?
Directed by Barry Levinson, this powerful biopic that originally aired on HBO received 15 Emmy nominations, including a win for Al Pacino as Outstanding Lead Actor. Pacino is the real selling point here. He creates a three-dimensional portrait of a stubborn, intelligent, and caring man, and it ranks among his all-time best work. Joining him onscreen, Susan Sarandon, Brenda Vaccaro (as Jack's sister Margo), John Goodman, and Danny Huston are all superb.
Unfortunately, the script fails to give much weight to Kevorkian's opponents, and they come across as simple villains. Director Levinson provides some stylish angles and sequences, but his real achievement is shaping Pacino's performance and keeping the material fresh and passionate.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how this movie frames Dr. Kevorkian and his work. Would you consider this a balanced portrayal? How would the movie have been different if the doctor's opponents had more of a voice in the film?
Did this movie make you feel angry? If so, how did it provoke those feelings? How did the movie's intense scenes affect you? Would the movie have worked without them?
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