Kevin Spacey’s one man show as lobbyist Jack Abramoff makes Casino Jack a vivid leap into pay-to-play politics and governance in the United States. Spacey earned a Golden Globe Best Actor nomination for the role.
Spacey’s megalomaniac Abramoff is so larger than life that every character around him fades, save for Barry Pepper as his sidekick Michael Scanlon. Their partners (Kelly Preston as Jack’s conscience-ridden wife and Rachelle Lefevre as Scanlon’s revenge-driven fiancee) seem little more than greedy hangers-on.
The perks and woes of wealth are many for Abramoff and Scanlon. Jack buys a new school for his kids (he’s dissatisfied with the quality of their private schools). He splurges on mansions, private jets, and a political junket to the Marianas even as his home mortgage payments go delinquent.
Supporting lavish lifestyle
To support their lifestyles, the pair begin to bend laws and ethical guidelines, charging exorbitant fees to their Indian casino clients.
The structure of the film reflects Abramoff’s world view. He’s the star, surrounded by a society of mediocre drones who work 40 hours a week and just scrape by. Not him.
Abramoff believes he’s a smart visionary who influences politicians. “I will not allow my family to be slaves!” he shouts at the mirror during his daily pep talk.
Despite a plot that gets bogged down in complex dealings, Spacey soars as a superlobbyist who thinks he’s a vital cog in Washington’s machinery. Lobbyists research, inform and guide elected officials, he says. They make sure pols vote “correctly” (according to the wishes of mega-bucks corporations and conglomerates).
When Abramoff opens the only kosher restaurant in D.C., it seems more a ruse to hook new clients and get his picture on the front page of the business section rather than a reflection of goodwill.
Abramoff as family man
Jack is a family man (on rare occasions) and an observant Jew. He loves movies. Spacey delivers dead-on impersonations of Ronald Reagan and Al Pacino.
In Abramoff’s grilling before John McCain’s Indian Affairs Committee, the factual retelling turns surreal. The Senators look like compromised buffoons who wheedle on the same level as the man they’re scapegoating.
Several members of the House (including Tom DeLay) were convicted in the wake of the investigations.
Abramoff the political crusader
When Scanlon sells him out for a lighter sentence, Abramoff tells his partner he’ll miss him over a final game of racquet. It’s predictable that prisoner Abramoff expounds on political affairs, typing frenzied letters to U.S. presidents. He lectures fellow inmates on the Torah as illustrated in movie themes.
Jon Lovitz sends up Abramoff’s frontman Adam Kidan, afloat on a rollicking casino ship. Graham Greene plays a determined Saginaw Chippewa tribal council leader.
Director George Hickenlooper died several months after Casino Jack’s filming. Abramoff completed a four year sentence for fraud, corruption and conspiracy. (3 out of 5 stars)
If you like Casino Jack, you might enjoy: Fair Game; Margin Call.
Casino Jack 2010 / R / 1 hour, 48 min
Cast Overview: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Graham Greene, Rachelle Lefevre, Kelly Preston, Hannah Endicott-Douglas, John Robinson, Spencer Garrett, Jeffrey R. Smith, Christian Campbell
Director: George Hickenlooper
Genres: Biopic, Docudrama, Drama