CASINO JACK: THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY 3.5/4
Magnolia Pictures, Unrated
When investigative doc director Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys In The Room) embarked on his exposé of Capitol Hill crook Jack Abramoff, it wasn’t just the task of turning the convicted lobbyist’s nearly mile-long rap sheet into a two-hour movie that was daunting—there was also the challenge of getting the audience’s attention to watch a nonfiction movie. So Gibney did the next best thing: He crafted Casino Jack: The United States of Money as a brand new hybrid-action documentary.
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Frankly, it couldn’t have been to difficult, since Hollywood couldn’t make this stuff up if it tried. There’s the Miami mob-style hit of an offshore gambling tycoon rival Abramoff has long been suspected of engineering, his 2006 plea deal incarceration for the corruption of public officials, and defrauding American Indian tribes across the country in casino scams.
Add to that his additional 2008 conviction along with an assortment of D.C. hotshots for trading gifts, meals and sports junkets for political favors, doing the pols’ dirty work so they wouldn’t have to, financial conspiracies involving Asian factory worker slavery and sex trafficking on Pacific Islands, suspected collusion with the right wing Citizens For America, linked to support for the Contras in Nicaragua, Afghan anti-Soviet fundamentalist fighters, the apartheid government in South Africa and even possibly the Iraq invasion, and there’s already a built-in thriller guaranteed to neutralize even the most sedentary onscreen yawner.
Perhaps this is because Gibney gets more than a little help from what could be viewed as his ghost writer collaborator: Abramoff himself, who as a once-aspiring Hollywood filmmaker for a decade in the ’80s dredged up the Dolph Lundgren anti-Soviet schlock epic Red Scorpion. Judging from the megalomaniac outing, mind-blowing sheer scope of Casino Jack, he drops hints helming a film can induce a delusional sense of power, leading to an impulse to move on and script the world.
In any case, move over Tea Party revelers. One of the most fascinating sidebars in Casino Jack is Abramoff’s bid to organize a reactionary macho posse of conservative college Republicans in the ’70s, mimicking the left lingo and militant attitude of ’60s rebels. There’s also the sprouting of a mega-scam Abramoff dubbed the Favor Factory, casting himself in his own reality show as a lobbyist with a perpetual smirk and a BlackBerry in each hand until he’s caught up as a villain in somebody else’s movie, all the way to the federal pen in Maryland.
Of course the notion of legal bribery and corruption at the highest levels in this country is nothing new. But Gibney’s obsession in sparing no details and exposing every odious shred of evidence possible through the criminal exploits precipitated by one man is a little like, say, astounding raw political porn, not to mention a peek into one of the most eccentric when not thoroughly evil men in America.