You Don't Know Jack (film)

You Don't Know Jack is a 2010 made-for-television biopic written by Adam Mazer and directed by Barry Levinson. It stars Al Pacino, John Goodman, Danny Huston, Susan Sarandon, and Brenda Vaccaro.

You Don't Know Jack
Written byAdam Mazer
Directed byBarry Levinson
StarringAl Pacino
Danny Huston
Susan Sarandon
John Goodman
Brenda Vaccaro
Theme music composerMarcelo Zarvos
Country of originUnited States
Original language(s)English
Producer(s)Scott Ferguson
Lydia Dean
Steve Lee Jones[1]
CinematographyEigil Bryld
Editor(s)Aaron Yanes
Running time134 minutes
Production company(s)Bee Holder Productions[2]
DistributorHBO Films
Budget$18 million
Original networkHBO
Original releaseApril 24, 2010 (2010-04-24)
External links Website

The film dramatizes the efforts of former Oakland County, Michigan, pathologist Dr. Jack Kevorkian (Pacino) to help the terminally ill and the profoundly disabled end their lives. The outspoken Kevorkian becomes a polarizing figure and he is often referred to as "Dr. Death" in the press. He is assisted by his sister Margo Janus (Vaccaro), his longtime friend and medical technician Neal Nicol (Goodman), and Janet Good (Sarandon), who founded the eastern Michigan chapter of the Hemlock Society.[3] By accepted accounts, he aided 130 people to die.

Kevorkian is unsuccessfully tried four times, but after taking an unprecedented direct role in the August 1998 death of his final patient, Thomas Youk, he is convicted of second degree murder and is sentenced to 20 to 25 years in prison.[4] He serves over eight years and is released in June 2007.

You Don't Know Jack's screenplay was based largely on the book Between the Dying and the Dead by Neal Nicol and Harry Wylie. The film received numerous award nominations. Al Pacino won Primetime Emmy, Golden Globe, and Screen Actors Guild awards for his performance as Kevorkian.[5] It received largely positive reviews and currently has a 91% rating at the aggregate film review website Rotten Tomatoes.[6]


Prompted by the plight of David Rivlin, a quadriplegic who litigated to be removed from his respirator so he can die,[7], the sight of a dying woman in a hospital bed, and the memory of his mother Satenig's death over two decades earlier, Dr. Jack Kevorkian builds his first "Mercitron".[8] out of parts bought at a flea market. He meets with Rivlin and presents his device. Kevorkian explains that through an intravenous line, Rivlin can self-administer first a harmless saline solution, followed by thiopental that will cause him to fall into a coma, and then potassium chloride that will stop his heart, thus causing death. Due to the expense and the difficulty of obtaining the drugs, Kevorkian later develops a less expensive method using tanks of carbon monoxide. Rivlin, however, becomes agitated and Kevorkian is forced to leave. Rivlin is later removed from his respirator and food and water are withheld. In an interview with reporter Jack Lessenberry, Kevorkian denounces what he sees as the cruelty of his unnecessarily painful death, comparing it to the Holocaust. He believes that his "death machine" would've brought about a quicker and easier death. He begins offering his services as a "death counselor".

His first patient is Janet Adkins, a 54-year-old woman from Portland, Oregon who is suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The disease is in its early stages, but Adkins is increasingly suffering from memory loss and confusion. With Kevorkian's help, she dies on June 4, 1990.[9] He begins aiding people in earnest. As Kevorkian's notoriety increases, he provokes polarizing public opinion. His supporters believe he is performing a public service and that the government has no right to interfere with the decisions of competent individuals who want to die. He insists that he gives his patients a means to end their suffering; they alone made the decision and initiated the process. He also claims to have turned down 97 or 98 percent of the people asking for his help. His critics, however, believe he is playing God. Conservative Oakland County prosecutor Richard Thompson believes Kevorkian is a murderer, but can't gain a conviction; he attributes his failures to Michigan's weak laws regarding assisted suicide and advocates stronger laws. In 1998, Thompson loses an election to a more liberal assistant prosecutor, David Gorcyca, who has no interest in wasting money (a major criticism of Thompson) prosecuting Jack Kevorkian as long as he only assists in suicides.

However, Thomas Youk's September 16, 1998 death is different. Youk, reputed to be Jack Kevorkian's final patient, is so crippled by amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig's disease) that he cannot self-administer the drugs. Kevorkian administers it personally. A video of Youk's death is presented as part of Kevorkian's interview with reporter Mike Wallace of the CBS news program 60 Minutes. It leads to him being indicted and, despite the intervention of Youk's widow Melody and his brother Terry, convicted of second degree murder. Kevorkian represents himself; in previous cases, he was represented by attorney Geoffrey Fieger. He is sentenced to 10 to 25 years in prison.[10] He wants his case to be heard by the United States Supreme Court so that the issue of assisted suicide can be decided. The Court declined to do so, however. Kevorkian is released in June 2007 after serving over eight years.



The film was nominated for 15 Primetime Emmy Awards and won two: Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie for Al Pacino and Outstanding Writing for a Miniseries, Movie, or Dramatic Special for Adam Mazer. Pacino also won the Golden Globe Award and Screen Actors Guild Award for his performance.


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