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Review: Casino Jack

By TOM MEEK  |  January 6, 2011
2.5 2.5 Stars

Not to be confused with the insightful documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money by the prolific Alex Gibney, this docudrama is nonetheless a fitting bookend. Helmed by the late George Hickenlooper, it focuses less on Jack Abramoff’s exploits as a Republican wingnut (he’s said to have had a hand in waylaying McCain in 2000 and helped usher in the Bush era) than on his more obscure shenanigans, such as defrauding Native American tribes seeking casino-friendly legislation and managing a shady Greek cruise line.

Hickenlooper, who also put in time as a documentarian (Hearts of Darkness), holds an obvious regard for truth. He and his writer, Norman Snider (Dead Ringers), work tirelessly to make Abramoff sympathetic despite the sleaze — and at the same time, like Gibney, to condemn his pay-to-play influence game on Capitol Hill. It’s the pols (Tom DeLay and Bob Ney) who come off as the real tools.

But Kevin Spacey’s bravura performance really sells the story. A pragmatic idealist and an egomaniac with delusional views of how the world operates, Abramoff maintained a cocksure arrogance even as his world collapsed. Spacey captures him gleefully, savoring the famous movie lines he spits out to seal a deal. (Abramoff spent years in Hollywood as a low-rung producer.) Portraying this ugly American is the actor’s best work since American Beauty.

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