Casino Jack Review


I’m not sure any actor last year had more fun with a part than Kevin Spacey seemed to in Casino Jack. His performance is larger than life, and appropriately so, for this true story is just too crazy to believe. During the height of the Bush administration, lobbyist Jack Abramoff took a hard fall and brought some of Washington’s biggest power players down with him. This film outlines his decline in hilarious fashion. It rarely takes itself and its subject seriously, making it a lot of fun. But even when it gets a little more serious, it works. Some minor problems with the screenplay prevent it from being a home run, but make no mistake, Casino Jack is one of 2010’s best comedies.

When the film begins, Abramoff is reaching the peak of his power. He’s a go-to guy when President Bush or Speaker of the House DeLay (Spencer Garret) need a favor, and he’s amassing enough money to start a small empire of kosher delis and Hebrew schools. But he and his business partner, Mike Scanlon (Barry Pepper) are getting all this money by ripping off a number of Native American tribes, as well as fraudulently purchasing a string of floating casinos in Florida through an acquaintance, Adam (Jon Lovitz). As he and Mike get deeper and deeper into these situations, they start to get careless. Jack lets Adam—whom he knows has mafia connections—run wild, while Mike shares all of his dirty laundry with this girlfriend, whom he’s cheating on. Once she learns of his indiscretions, the shit hits the fan.

There are moments when Casino Jack is laugh-out-loud hysterical. These moments typically coincide with Spacey at his wildest. The film’s opening monologue perfectly sets the tone for what’s to come, and one scene near the conclusion—when Abramoff goes wild in court—had me in stitches. There are also times when director George Hickenlooper (who sadly died just before the film was released) tries to show that Abramoff was more than this side show lobbyist. These moments might sound trite, but they actually work. One scene in particular—with Abramoff’s wife breaking down at the thought of his conviction—is actually fantastic.

My problems with the film, however minor they are, have to do with Hickenlooper’s attempts to humanize this man. He succeeds on occasion, but for the most part, Abramoff is the slick scumbag we expect. His “legitimate” businesses are supposed to have something to do with his other side—the giving, humble side. But those ventures either feel like whims or fronts for his illegal activity. I never got the sense he really cared about anything but lobbying and maybe Mike. His kids are complete afterthoughts, and even his wife, whom he clearly loves, is not at the forefront of his mind.

All that said, I still really enjoyed Casino Jack, and I think it’s probably hard not to. It’s hardly had a release, but if you can find it, check it out—if for no other reason than to remember just how talented an actor Kevin Spacey is.

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