Review: 'Casino Jack' In Greed We Trust?
In a nutshell, ‘Casino Jack’ is a film which presents one of America’s most vicious scams presented by a former filmmaker turned heavy-hitting Washington lobbyist, Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey). Based on true events, Jack Abramoff is a man with close ties to many influential Republicans, which include Tom DeLay, Bob Ney and George W. Bush who took the game of Washington for a spin along side his protégé Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper). To mention a few, successfully lobbying for a variety of conservative causes, such as having products from the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands be exempt from American labor laws (Minimum Wage), block the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act and helping the government of Sudan deflect criticism about their role in the alleged Darfur conflict. In the midst of it all, Abramoff also sucks millions of dollars from several Native American bands and Tyco Inc. in order to help fund fake grassroots campaigns. Instead of using the cash for its intended purpose, he lured it into his deep pockets, setting up a fleet of floating casinos, restaurants and an academy in Maryland – an Orthodox Jewish school.
Following thorough Federal investigations leading to his arrest in 2006, he pled guilty to defrauding millions of dollars from Native bands, fraudulent dealings with SunCruz Casinos that may have resulted in the assassination of owner Konstantinos "Gus" Boulis, and corrupting public officials. For all this, Abramoff was sentenced to four (4) years in prison; he served three-and-a-half (3½) years and released on December 4, 2010.
Setting aside the fact that he looks nothing like the actual Abramoff, Spacey presents the man’s lack of conscience and arrogance as few actors can. To a degree it might be safe to say he’s looking to land another Oscar or at the very least nomination. The only concern is that Spacey seems to identify too much with a man who caused limitless misery to thousands and got less than ten (10) years in prison; the real Abramoff might find this portrayal flattering as opposed to the sharp lesson it's supposed to be and he’s supposed to learn! That alone leaves a pretty sour taste in mouth as it seems more and more we tend to make heroes out of monsters in this country. Barry Pepper does an awesome job as Michael Scanlon, displaying a man who feels that if he yaps quickly enough, he can glide over the air of lies he’s constantly supplying. Jon Lovitz showcases dramatic chops as Adam Kidan, a lawyer who's not as intelligent as he believes. Kelly Preston keeps the role of wife Pam Abramoff simple, subtle and quite believable when shocked after finding out what her husband was up to while Graham Greene plays yet another wise old Native American role.
Although it’s questionable just how much accuracy director George Hickenlooper (Factory Girl) provided within the film, the art of conning has been going on for years and years – especially within the world of government! It’s beyond me if there’s anyone out there who believes ours isn’t involved in a lot of misleading acts for the purpose of personal gain(s). Hickenlooper intelligently displays ‘Casino Jack’ as a story of major corruption and greed. However, something I felt he failed to display aside from almost glorifying the life of Jack Abramoff, is the amount of misery his acts caused. It would have been a bit more interesting (to me at least) to have seen the opposite. During contemporary times I feel sites like WikiLeaks do us all a great service regarding transparency on what goes on behind-the-scenes among those who go out of their way to control, question and crucify us, yet who watches them? No one – or so we think! Julian Assange is one of few people out there who represent reverse-corruption and from what I see, politicians don’t like it one bit. Why? Well, because the noose is on their neck now!
Overall, ‘Casino Jack’ did what it was supposed to do – entertain! One thing I enjoyed were all the lines from famous films Abramoff kept quoting paying homage to his old job and passion, and treating the game of Washington like Hollywood. Having caught on to it, Pam (his wife) calls him out on his film-based playfulness and to which he simply replies with a sarcastic remark – “Washington’s Hollywood with ugly people.” The line’s classic and Writer, Norman Snider, deserves lots of credit for not only a good script, but pointing out Washington’s world for what it really is.
If interested in an in-depth story on the real Jack Abramoff, earlier this year a full blown documentary directed by Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room) titled ‘Casino Jack and the United States of Money’ was released. In it you’ll get to see and hear reports of all the acts, how they were worked up and a look at the man himself.
GRADE: B- / GENRE: Drama, Crime/Gangster and Biopic / ROARS: 3½ out of 5
RUN TIME: 1 hr. 50 Min. / RATED: R
CAST: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle LeFevre, Maury Chaykin
DIRECTOR: George Hickenlooper
(Opens on limited release, Fri. Dec. 17, 2010)
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