scandals and crimes of the George W. Bush administration have made for
fertile ground in the movies. Beyond the documentaries – of which there are
many – or even the fictionalized parables such as Rendition, The
Manchurian Candidate, etc. (let’s face it, most thrillers these days have
a shadowy Halliburton-esque corporation in the background), we are now
seeing serious dramatizations of actual historical events.
First there was Oliver Stone’s W, about the life of the former White
House dweller. Then HBO made the wonderful black comedy Recount,
looking at the questionable Florida vote count in the 2000 Bush-Gore
election which handed the Presidency to Bush. Most recently Fair Game
took an in-depth look at the Valerie Plame spy scandal. And that’s not
even taking into account the films about the war in Iraq or the September
comes Casino Jack, a surprisingly funny look at disgraced lobbyist
Jack Abramoff – who essentially became the poster child for Republican
excess and corruption.
Abramoff had just been the subject of a documentary – the similarly titled
Casino Jack and the United States of Money by acclaimed documentarian
Alex Gibney. It’s a fascinating story, full of greed, hubris, sex,
money, mob connections and politics.
Casino Jack (who
suddenly passed away at age 47 in October just as the promotion of this film
was getting geared up) also got his start in documentaries – including the
acclaimed show biz doc Hearts of Darkness – before changing over to
feature films like Factory Girl and The Man from Elysian Fields.George Hickenlooper, the late writer-director of
However, Hickenlooper has decided not to go the dry, documentary
route in telling this tale. Abramoff’s story is told as a quirky, arch
comedy of errors and greed.
comes from Hickenlooper’s personal interactions with the disgraced lobbyist
in prison. The director quickly learned how his subject was able to gain
such access and success in seducing the movers and shakers in government.
Turns out that Abramoff, unlike the evil wraith he was portrayed as in the
media, was actually an extremely charming and funny man.
Hickenlooper realized that while he was rather appalled by Abramoff’s
actions, he kind of liked the guy and his story – far from being a bunch of
dull backroom deals it was actually an over-the-top, stranger-than-fiction
tale of greed and hubris.
Therefore, Casino Jack tells the story in an offbeat way, telling a
serious story in a somewhat comical way.
film has a coup in casting Kevin Spacey as Abramoff (ironically, this is
Spacey’s second movie about the Bush administration, he also starred in
Recount). This kind of sly, charming scoundrel is just up Spacey’s
alley and he nails the role, making Jack Abramoff both slimy and seductive
in equal measure.
shows the dark side of the conservative revolution of the early 2000s,
showing how money and power can corrupt a person without them completely
realizing. Ethics were such a fluid concept for Abramoff that you never
really know if he realizes what he is doing is wrong.
Abramoff almost seems to be doing the political equivalent of a Ponzi Scheme
– gaining untold wealth and influence while doing very little to actually
earn it. Most of his clients were Indian tribes, all of which he was
ripping off blatantly.
the meantime he was sharing cigars with the Tom DeLays and Karl Roves of the
world. Interestingly, for a man who was one of the major faces of the
Republican Party during the Bush 44 administration, Abramoff apparently felt
serious disdain for Bush and to this day insists that Clinton was a much
better President. However, Abramoff was embraced by the leadership – until
he was caught and completely cut off.
course it was not all politics. There are also mob hits, gambling, gourmet
food, beach lifeguards and violent assaults with ball point pens.
of this stuff is so over the top that it would be unbelievable if it
weren’t true. But it is true, and all the more fascinating for it.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: December 17, 2010.