Occasionally, fiction truly is more satisfying than truth, and so it is with “Kevorkian.” A perfectly respectable documentary about the assisted-suicide advocate quaintly known as “Dr. Death,” this 90-minute film best serves as a companion piece to HBO’s recent movie “You Don’t Know Jack,” featuring Al Pacino in the toothsome role of Jack Kevorkian. Filmmaker Matthew Galkin tries to get underneath Kevorkian’s skin, but he’s too old and cranky to play along. It’s interesting enough, but frankly, one of those instances where you can skip the book, as it were, and rent (or TiVo) the movie.
“Kevorkian” improbably finds its subject in the midst of a futile run for a Michigan congressional seat in 2008 — an act, like so much in Kevorkian’s life, undertaken to make a point, without any hope of victory.
Those interviewed include family, friends and flamboyant attorney Geoffrey Fieger, who (irritating as he is) perhaps comes closest to accurately characterizing the self-destructive streak in Kevorkian’s zealotry. The tragedy of Kevorkian’s life is not that he watched his mother die of cancer — an early inspiration for his righteous death-with-dignity crusade — but how he virtually insisted on being sent to prison in order to trigger a Supreme Court review that never came.
Kevorkian’s self-absorption certainly comes through loud and clear. When he’s told Barack Obama has been elected president (the film picks up after the good doctor’s parole in 2007 and follows him through the campaign), he says it means nothing, since the Supreme Court really runs the country.
Galkin, who previously assembled HBO’s “I Am an Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA,” seems to specialize in profiling subjects whose positions might be broadly sympathetic yet who prove poor spokespeople for their causes — folks who alienate their friends nearly as much as their ideological opponents.
Kevorkian is a fascinating figure, but after 90 minutes in his company, even filtered through Galkin’s dispassionate lens, you mostly just want to see Pacino affect that strange cadence again — or at least put some distance between yourself and Kevorkian’s misery.