CAPSULE: There is something fascinating in seeing a really successful criminal mind doing his thing. CASINO JACK is the story of two years in the life of pirate lobbyist Jack Abramoff--played by Kevin Spacey. The film covers complex and greedy political coups that Abramoff instigated, exploiting holes in the political system and which go beyond personal dishonesty to corrupting the entire system. It is all the viewer can do to keep up with the staccato barrage of chicanery Abramoff attempts. Rating: high +1 (-4 to +4) or 6/10
CASINO JACK opens with its best sequence. Jack Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey), in full business suit, is brushing his teeth and giving a ferocious pep talk to his image in the mirror telling the reflection to go with his greed for his own sake and for the sake of his family and because he can. People who do not go for the gold any way they can--the vast majority of the world--are mediocrities. Abramoff ranks with Harry Lime and Gordon Gecko--a comparison that the film fan in him would not mind--but he is far hungrier and has more passion. One more difference from Lime and Gecko is that Jack Abramoff is, unfortunately, a real person.
Early in the film Abramoff's sleazy reign is coming to an end. The illegalities of Abramoff's operating procedures have caught up with him and he is put into jail. The film flashes back two years to show how Washington's top lobbyist ended up incarcerated. The film follows Abramoff's convoluted machinations exploiting others' greed and weaknesses in our political system, the king of lobbyist- centered K Street. Together with his close partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), Abramoff works up bigger and bigger schemes. He accepts huge sums of money to lobby for an Indian tribe going into the casino business, steals the money and instead of using it for their benefit buys himself a fleet of cruise ship casinos and a pair of restaurants. He makes a disreputable alliance with Representative Tom DeLay (Spencer Garrett) and pulls him into his schemes. Abramoff treats his wife like he treats just about everyone else, manipulating where he can and lying when it suits him. He pulls into his schemes Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) a seedy mattress dealer with ties to organized crime. The deals come thick and fast. It is clearer to the viewer than it is to Abramoff that he will eventually dig himself in too deeply.
Actor Kevin Spacey dominates the entire film with his bigger-than- life portrait of Abramoff. For such a successful manipulator of the powerful Abramoff seems too self-indulgent and to lack common sense. In the middle of a serious meeting he will start quoting film dialog in strange voices. He dotes on his collection of photographs of himself with top Republicans. Spacey is more credible as a thief than as an Orthodox Jew, but the character he is playing is both. More controlled is his partner Michael Scanlon, played by Barry Pepper. A welcome presence is the late Maury Chaykin as a mob hood. George Hickenlooper, who previously directed the excellent small film THE MAN FROM ELYSIAN FIELDS (2001), helms the film with a breezy style.
Because the intricacies of Abramoff's plots come quick and fast, the viewer needs a good memory for names and references. The patter comes much faster than in a film like THE HOAX. Perhaps a clearer explanation can be found in the similarly-titled documentary CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY (2010) written and directed by Alex Gibney.
The case of Jack Abramoff is a warning of what is happening to Democracy in this country at the hands of highly paid lobbyists with far too much power. I rate this CASINO JACK a high +1 on the -4 to +4 scale or 6/10.
Film Credits: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1194417/
Mark R. Leeper firstname.lastname@example.org Copyright 2010 Mark R. Leeper