Every now and again, a movie is made that deeply criticizes our government and calls out those responsible for certain crimes and schemes. It makes me wonder just how great our “great nation” actually is. Casino Jack is one of these movies, and while I felt contempt towards the multiple characters in the film, I also laughed at the brilliant yet not always subtle satire.
Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) was one of, if not the, most influential lobbyists in Washington, and he only gets bigger when his associate, Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), proposes the idea of cheating a Native American casino out of money. As their profits rise and another casino wants to make a deal, mistakes begin to be made when the bring pseudo-mobster Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) into the mix as a business partner. What comes next is Abramoff’s sharp decline in power and respect, ultimately ending his political career.
The choice to make this film into a comedy is a good choice. It keeps the mood light and the politics easy to understand, as long as you know a little bit about the government and its workings. Kevin Spacey gives a realistic performance (no surprise there) and makes Abramoff almost sympathetic, which is not an easy task. I really enjoyed seeing Barry Pepper not play a soldier or a man stricken by the plight of war. I didn’t know exactly how he would be in a film like this, but he was really good. Jon Lovitz provided this film with its biggest laughs and stole every scene he was in.
When a movie makes you think, than it is doing something that all movies should, but not all succeed in. When Casino Jack ended, I was really happy with it, but I was also confused and angry about how people, especially in positions of power, can so easily get away with schemes like the one that Abramoff was involved in. If our government can’t even control its lobbyists, who are in a strangely authentic position of power, than how can the people of the country know what is really going on behind the walls of the senate.
I’d like to see more films with the same style as Casino Jack, the dry comedic political satire. There were parts where the comedy reminded me of the comedy used in The Informant, which was a movie only I seemed to really enjoy. It’s a good way of telling a complicated and potentially devastating story, as Jack Abramoff’s potential future in politics and possibly even his whole life is in shambles by the end of this movie. We never feel that same devastation because of the light hearted tone of the movie. This isn’t to say it’s never dramatic. Of course it is, but it never turns from a comedy to a straight on drama.
Casino Jack is not for everyone, as the mixed reviews from critics and audiences have come to show. If you have absolutely no interest in politics, then you would have no interest in this movie. The real kicker is that this is a true story, and not made up by some screen writer in his apartment. Sure its a dramatization and some of it is probably fictionalized, but the core of the story really happened. Casino Jack is a movie that will make you laugh, wonder, and criticize all at the same time.
On a side note, director George Hickenlooper, died before the movie could be released which to me is a really sad thing. Kudos to you Mr. Hickenlooper for making your last movie a really enjoyable one.