Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Casino Jack – Movie Review




Tuesday night, my movie class had a bonus screening of the comedy-drama “Casino Jack”, starring Kevin Spacey and Barry Pepper.



A successful Washington lobbyist and his partner set their sites even higher to gain more wealth and power with government legislators – but when their corrupt schemes are uncovered, can they evade legal action that might imprison them?


Jack Abramoff (Spacey) is, without a doubt, one charming, personable, charismatic guy – in addition to having a great sense of humor and the ability to quote lines from many famous movies, he’s a loyal family man, devoutly religious and staunch in his political beliefs.  Normally, these would be admirable qualities in anyone … and yet Jack is one of most unscrupulous, greedy, corrupt individuals in town – and considering the fact that Jack is a Washington, D.C. lobbyist, that’s certainly saying quite a good deal!  Together with his partner Michael Scanlon (Pepper), Abramoff soon becomes what Time Magazine refers to as a “Super-lobbyist” because of his fame, power and wealth.  


Unfortunately for Jack and Michael, success goes to their head as their greed and desire for even greater power in the federal government causes them to make some very bad decisions that will eventually haunt them.  First off, they deceive a tribe of Native Americans into paying them around $20 million which they believe will give them a competitive edge over a neighboring tribe in developing and running a casino in their home state.  This is followed up by a shady business deal with a dishonest casino owner who allows them to have a partial interest in his business in exchange for his freedom from having to hands-on manage the day-to-day management of running the operation. 


Before long, Jack and Michael find themselves in a great deal of trouble when everything falls apart.  First, the Native American tribe discovers that they have been taken for a large sum of money with nothing to show for their contribution, eventually deciding to seek restitution from Jack and Michael.  Then, the bumbling businessman assigned to run the casino winds up having a gangster acquaintance whack the casino owner after a disagreement, causing them all to be implicated in a murder.  As the Washington Post picks up on some of these shenanigans and the pair’s enemies decide that now is the perfect time to rat on them to the authorities, Jack and Michael are faced with possible prison time – but can these two expert connivers somehow manage to squirm their way out of this predicament?



As with some of Kevin Spacey’s movies, even if you can’t find too much to like about the movie itself, Spacey’s performance alone will make it worthwhile to see the film.  While “Casino Jack” is by no means a bad movie, it is certainly not for everyone – although told in a somewhat comedic fashion for much of the time, it’s also something of an intellectual, thinking-person’s film.  Additionally, since it has been inspired by relatively recent true events, some people might have a hard time with “Casino Jack” because it can be seen as yet another swipe at Republicans/Conservatives by the Liberal/Democratic Hollywood film industry.  While an argument certainly could be made for this, I personally found that who the party was that the Abramoff character engaged in hijinks was rather irrelevant – once you get caught up in the story, you realize it’s more about power, greed, corruption and betrayal.  Then again, if the recollection of the real-life news stories around this event remain vivid in your mind, then maintaining this level of objectivity about it may very well be difficult indeed.


Going back to Spacey’s performance for a moment, it really does rise above any of the film’s flaws or inconsistencies (which are rare and minor).  The movie opens with a monolog by Spacey’s Abramoff and that alone almost makes “Casino Jack” worth seeing by itself.  It’s easy to see why Spacey chose to perform in this role because it permits him to give a real tour de force display of his acting talents – Spacey’s Abramoff character not only recites famous lines from classic movies, but also, does spot-on imitations of stars such as Stallone (from “Rocky”), Pacino (“And Justice For All”) and Walter Matthau in addition to politicians like Reagan and Bill Clinton. 


After the screening, our instructor interviewed the film’s star, Kevin Spacey.  The interview opened on a real downer as a rather solemn Spacey announced to the audience that the film’s 47 year old director, George Hickenlooper, had recently passed away while taking “Casino Jack” around the country to show at special screenings in order to promote its upcoming release; he said that while obviously tragic, it also impacted him deeply because they became good friends as a result of working on the project together.  In sharing the story behind making the movie, Spacey said that he wound up getting cast through Facebook – particularly ironic given the fact that he was also Executive Producer of the film, “The Social Network”.  Basically, what happened was that Hickenlooper announced on his page that he wanted to make the movie and wrote on his Wall that he thought Spacey would be perfect in the role of Abramoff; a friend of Spacey’s saw this and told him about it – Spacey also liked the idea and asked his friend to “Poke” Hickenlooper.  They wound up getting together after that and the two collaborated on making the film as Spacey’s production company also produced it as well.