For anyone who has an interest in the ins and outs of the American political system, Casino Jack is a film not to be missed.
Starring Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper and Jon Lovitz, the film tells the story of Washington Lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Spacey), his underling and partner in crime Michael Scanlon, and their less than legal money-making schemes which lead to a full scale corruption investigation. The movie is based on a true story and was the last film George Hickenlooper directed before his death in 2010.
Jack Abramoff has the reputation of being one of the most successful lobbyists in Washington. He is admired by the president and is in high demand in his field. The more successful he gets, the more he realises how much money people are willing to pay for his services (millions of dollars are being thrown around at the drop of a hat) and, while he tries to convince himself and his potential clients, that he is sincere about helping people, a selfish vision of his own life and legacy begins to overtake his dedication to the job. With constant encouragement from Scanlon, he raises the stakes and demands much higher fees from clients than before, while focusing more on acquiring a fleet of offshore casino boats – boats which rather than invest in himself, he has been hired to help sell on from their dodgy Greek owner – than doing anything to help his clients. Involving a high school friend, who has since gained mob connections and been involved in a whole host of dodgy dealings, leads to an unstoppable chain of events, with Abramoff and Scanlon’s scheme being deemed ‘the new Watergate’.
It has to be said that the cast of this film is absolutely perfect. Spacey’s role as Abramoff, while in a completely different setting and situation, and based on a real person, is almost reminiscent of his role as Lester Burnham in American Beauty – he has the same air of delusion and desperation to create a particular life and identity for himself. Jack has a vision of an Abramoff empire – he wants to open restaurants, schools and sports parks. Even when his work begins to take an illicit turn, he constantly tells himself and others that everything he is doing is in the name of his family and his religion – his determination to open a kosher restaurant and a school for the Jewish children of Washington is unstoppable.
His delusions of grandeur begin to affect everything, from his job, to his marriage and his connections within the Washington political hierarchy. Barry Pepper is excellent as Jack’s equally deluded partner, who has an almost childlike quality – he is caught up in a world of calculating businessmen and heavy weight political figures and is clearly out of his depth, but is so excited about the money that he bluffs his way through meetings and debates purely through his association with Jack. Jon Lovitz is also brilliant as Adam Kidan, the man Jack brings in to front their scheme – it is a slightly obvious role for Lovitz but one which we can’t really imagine anyone else playing quite as well.
This film received mixed reviews from critics, but it is definitely worth watching for fans of Kevin Spacey or for anyone with an interest in American politics – it highlights certain hypocrisies within the system and, as it is based on a real incident, is a thought-provoking exploration of the way politics can, and often is, corrupted by greed and self-interest. It is, however, injected with just the right amount of humour courtesy of its cast to ensure that it isn’t exclusively a ‘political’ film, so doesn’t exclude viewers who aren’t quite as interested in that subject matter. The acting is so good that we become genuinely interested in the characters and are intrigued enough by them alone to want to see how the film ends.