Casino Jack * * * 1/2

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Director: George Hickenlooper.
Screenplay: Norman Snider.
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle Lefevre, Maury Chaykin, Spencer Garrett, Eric Schweig, Graham Greene, Christian Campbell, Yannick Bisson.

Throughout his career, director George Hickenlooper would switch from documentaries to feature films. He is probably better known for “Hearts Of Darkness: A Filmmakers Apocalypse” where he brilliantly documented the trouble that Francis Ford Coppola had in making “Apocalypse Now“. His abilities in delving into true murky situations are also reflected in this account of a 2006 Washington D.C. political scandal.

Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) is a self proclaimed family man, Republican and devout Jew. He also happens to be a lobbyist who wields a lot of influence with politicians and businessmen. Along with partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), he decides to lobby a casino for a Native American tribe, stealing millions from them in the process. He also sets up an illegal chain of offshore casinos that involve gangsters and eventual murder. Abramoff is highly ambitious and lacks morals and that’s exactly what leads to his conviction on charges of conspiracy and mail fraud and the downfall of many politicians who were happy to do business with him.

If you’ve ever seen Kevin Spacey get interviewed then you’ll know that he has an ability to do impressions. This is a role where he is given a bit of leeway to show a few of them; Al Pacino, Ronald Regan and Bill Clinton among others. It’s also a role that allows him to give a few of the cocksure Spacey rants that we have become accustomed to. It’s one of the better roles that he’s had over recent years and he makes the most of it. It’s him that keeps this film anchored as it attempts to cover more ground than it can handle. It can’t be easy covering true events and trying to be as honest about them as you possibly can, without losing sight of a few things. Hickenlooper has a good go and doesn’t shy away from naming names involved in the scandal. He doesn’t change anything; Abramoff and Michael Scanlon are put under the microscope and political big-hitters like President George W. Bush (of course) and Senator John McCain are also implicated. It’s a brave move and Hickenlooper and screenwriter Norman Snider deserve credit for their bravery. Speaking of which, Snider’s writing is fast-paced and snappy. He starts with a bang and never really let’s up. He drops names into the mix and moves from person to person in quick succession, showing the extent and depth of the corruption that political figures, so often, finds themselves in. However, this is also part of the film’s problem: there’s too much going on and it attempts to move into comedy territory that doesn’t suit the seriousness of the characters’ downfalls. The inclusion of the highly irritating comedic actor Jon Lovitz was a bad move entirely. He seems as if he’s walked on to the wrong set. As mentioned though, Spacey keeps the film interesting and despite an underwritten role, Barry Pepper lends some excellent support as his partner in crime. What I found most intriguing though, was the story itself. Maybe I’ve been leading a sheltered life but I don’t recall this corruption being broadcasted or reported, despite it being compared to the scale of the Watergate scandal of 1972. I’d never heard of Abramoff either, who has been a colourful and highly influential figure in recent American politics. Not to mention, a producer and writer of the Dolph Lundgren movie “Red Scorpion”. Truth does indeed have a funny way of being stranger than fiction.

Political backhanders and downfalls are exposed in a fast-paced and comedic style. It’s doesn’t succeed on all accounts but remains an intriguing story.

Mark Walker

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10 Responses to “Casino Jack * * * 1/2”

  1. This looks like one that’ll be right up my street. Thanks for the tip!

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    • No bother man. It came in for some dodgy reviews but it had a lot going for it. Had you heard of this guy or the events before?

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      • His name’s familiar but I can’t place where from. I haven’t seen Red Scorpion in years though, so it can’t be that

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      • I never heard a thing till i sat down to the film last night. I would like to hear more from him though, it seems he has some major dirt on big politicians. He’s probably been payed off to keep quite though.

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  2. Great review, I saw it last year and it’s one I greatly enjoyed, especially the impersonations you mention 🙂

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  3. Sounds interesting. I’d watch Spacey in anything, even a ghastly Adam Sandler or Eddie Murphy vehicle. That’s how good he is. One of my favorites, for sure. Found what you had to say about Lovitz very funny because when I saw his name at the top of your review, I thought “what the hell is he doing next to Kevin Spacey?!” I actually find him repulsive.

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    • Spacey is a great actor. One of my favourites also. It’s a good role he has here. The film has it’s flaws but it’s a good story and yes, I really can’t stand Lovitz. He’s the same every time you see him, which is always irritating.

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  4. I know I’ve seen this (in fact, I would say I saw it in the theater) but I had absolutely no recognition of anything that happens in it. Even after reading this I have a vague, at best, memory of it.

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