Entertainment Magazine: Film: 2010: "Casino Jack"

CASINO JACK - The Washington Cowboy

By Miv Evans

This is a true story about a Washington lobbyist who swindles millions of dollars from native American casino owners.

The idea of the politically powerful being pitted against ancestral Indian tribes is a fascinating concept but the filmmakers are in such a hurry that, instead of drawing us into their unique new world, many powerful moments are simply tossed in and we are never invited to get close to the characters as they go to do battle.   

Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) is a highly successful lobbyist who spends a lot of time on golf courses and in the White House.  When he offers his political services to a casino, owned by the Choctaw Indian tribe, he is turned down because, at $10 million a month, his fees are too expensive.  Determined to have a slice of the cash that the casino generates, he engineers a change of management and, with his goal accomplished, his fortune grows, as does his greed.   

We meet a lot of characters at the beginning of this film but none, apart from Abramoff, are memorable and the storyline is so busy it becomes confusing.  Kevin Spacey, of course, plays the villain brilliantly and his compelling performance deftly covers many of the cracks, but when he tries to get intimate with a voice over it makes us uncomfortable because we don't like who he is or what he does.

He and his side-kick, Mick Scanlon (Barry Pepper), who contributes nothing to the film, constantly do impressions of characters from other movies which is invariably fatal and in no way helps to elevate the lack luster dialogue.   

The structure of the story is often fractured.  Abramoff and his colleagues enjoy a life of obscene wealth, but in the midst of this Abramoff receives a letter about a late mortgage payment and a little later whines that his outgoings are drowning him.

Soon after, he is extremely wealthy but we didn't share the journey that got him there.  Equally under-told are the events just after Abramoff's first domino falls.  Instead of spinning into the stratosphere, there's a humdrum scene with Mr & Mrs Abramoff and the tumultuous fall out of the super-lobbyist's misdeeds limp tamely behind.   

The status of the indigenous nations is not globally known, and there's a whole generation of baby boomers living outside the US who were raised on westerns and the Lone Ranger in particular, and whose romantic image of these mystical tribes is still intact.

They will, of course, be fascinated to know that reservations have been retained, if only geographically, and that tribal names are still being used, but they will also have to accept that it's not just us who have moved on, and Tonto's descendents probably don't know one end of a horse from the other.

On top of that, sleeping next to mother earth now has as much appeal to them as floor boards do to us so the wigwam is long gone and has been replaced by a chic little starter home, furnished by Ikea.

To read more reviews by Miv Evans visit www.emol.org/reporters/evans.  Contact her at www.thetrailerfestival.com

RELEASE DATE: USA - 17 December, 2010

Casino Jack Movie Trailers

Watch the Official "Casino Jack" movie trailer through Hulu and YouTube. Click on the white triangle to start the movie.

Casino Jack Webisode 2 A Spoonful of Sugar

Casino Jack and the United States of Money – spot your politician here!

Review and interview with Alex Gibney, the writer & director

By Miv Evans

“High rollers in Indian casinos, hookers in Saipan, a murdered Greek tycoon, Cold War spy novels, plush trips to paradise…. and the United States Congress.

These are among the intriguing clues that add up to the epic mystery behind one of the greatest attempted heists in American history.”

Sound like a thriller to you?  Yes, it is, but it is also a documentary, and the documentary got there first, written and directed by Alex Gibney, the filmmaker who brought us Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side.

The thriller titled Casino Jack will be on our screens in September and stars Kevin Spacey.   You shouldn’t watch the second one until you’ve seen the first because, according to Alex Gibney, reality has most definitely trumped fiction on this occasion.

Casino Jack is one Jack Abramoff, a man from a privileged background who achieved very little in life until he set his sights on the casinos run by Native Americans.

As soon as he spotted his prey, he lined up his ducks (in this case, buyable politicians) and then proceeded to rob the casinos blind under the guise of ‘lobbying.’

He was also one of the major fund-raisers for the Republican Party and there is a great moment in the documentary, just after Abramoff’s arrest, when Bush announces “He does not know this man”.  We then get a shot of Abramoff as an honored guest at the presidential table.  Great storytelling both on the part of the filmmaker and the erstwhile president.

Alex Gibney does an excellent job of presenting the facts but it is retrospective rather than investigative and Abramoff was already serving his four year sentence when Gibney picked up the mantle, so there are therefore no interviews with the villain and this leaves quite a gap as this is, after all, Casino Jack’s story.

Gibney did interview him extensively in prison after his conviction but no recording equipment was allowed so there is nothing to show.

It is also more of a journey for the audience if we are able to witness the arrogance of our villains as they zoom off in their high-spec Mercedes, full of confidence that they are the one’s who will get away with it, and then see them carted off in the back of a Sedan, preferably chained to someone in a highly-recognizable uniform.

The partners in crime who Gibney interviewed after their convictions have been humbled by their experiences which is fine as far as it goes, but having not seen them at the top we only see them on their best behavior which does not always make the best viewing.  

Gibney has some admirable ideas as to how these non-violent criminals should be dealt with, which includes taking all their money, making them live in Government housing and taking a job in MadDonalds.  So if he had his way the entire camera crew could have camped out for days getting as close to Abramoff as they needed and the only tip they would have to give him was ‘Don’t rob native American casino owners, as you’ll probably get caught’.

Release date:  7th May, 2010
Producers:  Jigsaw Productions
Distributors:  Magnolia

To read more reviews by Miv Evans visit www.emol.org/reporters/evans.  Contact her at www.thetrailerfestival.com

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