If the name Jack Abramoff sounds familiar to you, it’s because it probably is. Convicted in 2006 of fraud, he pulled off one of the biggest con jobs in American history, practically stealing money from and destroying American Indian tribes who had hired him to do the opposite, protect them. However, if you aren’t aware of the finer details surrounding Abramoff’s story, no worries. I’m not either. Although I like to think I’m more in tune with what happened than the average person, the details can prove a bit confusing.
Casino Jack, the newest biopic of the corrupt lobbyist (as portrayed by Kevin Spacey) attempts to give those details without providing the necessary context to back them up, scarcely explaining key things like the “gimme five” scheme he pulled off with his partner in crime, Michael Scanlon, played by Barry Pepper (who drops the word “dude” in this movie more than Matt Stone and Trey Parker in BASEketball). Much like the documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money earlier this year, the film throws out names and information so fast that it can be hard to keep up. Just in the first few minutes, most of Abramoff’s cohorts are introduced and it speeds through important points that led to his eventual conviction, like his work on a textile mill on the Marianas where employees were basically treated as indentured servants. Everything that is detailed in Casino Jack has already been explored in the documentary and most of what is new is purely speculative, like conversations that happened behind closed doors or over the phone.
Basically, the documentary did a better job of presenting us this man. It was done more in depth and without the speculative nonsense. However, it is how they present him that offers up the largest change from film to film. The documentary deals with facts and doesn’t attempt to go into the personal life of Abramoff. Casino Jack does. It takes a wholly wretched man and attempts to make him (at least somewhat) likable. He is shown as a family man. He quotes movies. He does impressions. He makes jokes. By the end, they try to make his situation sympathetic, but I could find no sympathy to give. He knew what he was doing and deserved everything that was about to happen to him.
The clear attempt at empathy for Abramoff sinks the movie because he’s a man who is clearly self involved, though he pretends he’s not. He calls himself “a man of faith” and thinks he’s doing God’s work when in reality he’s swindling people out of their money. When he arrives at his prison cell, his biggest concern is whether or not they serve kosher. When the scandal is breaking and he is told he is on the front page of the Washington Post, he simply asks, “Is it above the fold?” Although he surely didn’t want to go to prison, he’s a person one could see as liking the attention because he could show America just how smart he thinks he is.
If you couldn’t tell, I hold Jack Abramoff with the highest contempt. Just thinking of the corruption in all areas of the world is sickening to my stomach and it’s because of people like Abramoff and his lackeys that our country finds itself in dire straits. Of course, that’s why knowing this story is so important, but I find myself leaning away from Casino Jack and towards the superior documentary.
If you do watch the documentary first, one of two things will happen. You’ll either enjoy Casino Jack because you’ll be going into it with a better understanding of the actual man, or you’ll dislike it because you'll realize how much unnecessary drama and speculation there is in its telling of his story. At the end of Casino Jack and the United States of Money, I was enraged that someone could do something so destructive, but I also found hope in the idea that corruption could be uncovered and punished. At the end of Casino Jack, I felt nothing.
Casino Jack receives 2/5