The story of Jack Abramoff is interesting and relevant, so if you make a movie about that you’ve almost got a safety net. Casino Jack is more of a re-enactment than a cinematic experience.
Kevin Spacey plays the infamous lobbyist. With his narration, the film explains exactly how Abramoff set up his schemes. The script gets all the information out there, at least the talking points. They use a bit part character of a journalist to address the issue of capitalism with Abramoff. Then Jack punches the journo who turns out to be a hemophiliac. Get it? Bleeding heart liberal. It’s not high style dialogue like The Social Network. It’s just desperately trying to get every shade of gray in there so it can be considered fair and balanced.
Abramoff and Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) are the ringleaders, making a sales pitch to lobby for Native American interests and carry it into shady business endeavors. Abramoff has plans for restaurants and schools to represent his social and cultural interests (kosher cuisine, no joke.) Scanlon wants personal luxuries like a mansion but either way, you can tell they’re crazy.
We see what a lobbyist does and it is salesmanship. The very heart of the endeavor makes me as a viewer instinctively feel like not listening to him. Abramoff bullies and pressures people into schemes. Solid business opportunities aren’t hurting for investors. If someone has to convince you it’s a good idea, it’s not. Eventually Scanlon blabs to his wife Emily (Rachelle Lefevre), who he cheats on, so she exposes them. Abramoff can’t even keep his cohort straight.
The story is peppered with scenes for actors to “play,” really boisterous moments for the awards show clip reel. Abramoff and Scanlon love to quote movies so they do impressions. They even piss off some gangsters by doing DeNiro, but that just makes me think, “Why did this country fall for this loser?” I don’t see it. Once it hits the fan, the tantrums Abramoff and Scanlon throw when they’re not getting their way and the panic when they’re caught are the flamboyant parts.
Jon Lovitz plays Adam Kidan, a failure in the mattress business who they swindle into running their offshore casinos. Then they freak out when it turns out Kidan’s more dangerous than they are. Lovitz gets to play a meaty role as not just a scumbag, but a scumbag with no pretense of being honorable. He just doesn’t care.
Casino Jack does show how a man like Abramoff exists. You see the ego, the insecure defensiveness and the delusion that he’s never at fault. Maybe it’s just too obvious. The cinematography tries to preserve realism by hiding or obscuring well known political figures like McCain and Bush. That makes it practical, not visual. And the music sounds so caper-y, it’s like, “Come on. Your point is that this massive national fraud was executed like a good old fashioned bank heist?” I’d probably watch a movie like Casino Jack on TV and think, “Yup, that’s pretty much what I thought happened.” Nothing more.