Casino Jack Review

Published 3 years ago by , Updated May 22nd, 2011 at 8:03 pm,

Casino Jack Review Casino Jack Review

While TRON: Legacy may be dominating the television airwaves with trailer after trailer for Disney’s big-budget sci-fi adventure, Casino Jack, George Hickenlooper’s stranger-than-fiction story of real-life “Super Lobbyist” Jack Abramoff has been quietly racking up award season buzz – with several nominations already on the table (including one Best Actor nod for Kevin Spacey).

The true story of Abramoff’s downfall is certainly compelling source mater – but does Casino Jack deliver as enjoyable film entertainment?

A film based on the story of one of the most greedy, and charismatic businessmen to ever set foot on Capital Hill may not sound like something a lot of moviegoers would want to see following one of the worst recessions in America’s history. However, with the late George Hickenlooper at the helm, Casino Jack manages to find an intriguing balance between cautionary tale and comic revelry – letting the loony events of the actual SunCruz Casinos scandal speak for themselves.

If you’re unfamiliar with Casino Jack, or Jack Abramoff himself, here’s the official synopsis from ATO Pictures:

“Inspired by true events that are too over-the-top for even the wildest imaginations to conjure, Casino Jack lays bare the wild excesses and escapades of Jack Abramoff. Aided by his business partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), Jack parlays his clout over some of the world’s most powerful men with the goal of creating a personal empire of wealth and influence. When the two enlist a mob-connected buddy (Jon Lovitz) to help with one of their illegal schemes, they soon find themselves in over their heads, entrenched in a world of mafia assassins, murder and a scandal that spins so out of control that it makes worldwide headlines.”

Casino Jack Kevin Spacey Casino Jack Review

In a world where the “based on a true-story” founding of Facebook movie, The Social Network, might live-on as the “true story” for many viewers, it’s becoming increasingly important for films, based on real events, to work hard at both telling a convincing story while being careful with the liberties they’re taking. It’s no surprise that Hickenlooper successfully balances the facts with intriguing story-telling, given the success of the director’s critically acclaimed documentary, Hearts of Darkness – which chronicled the production of Apocalypse Now.

While this film is obviously not a documentary, that privilege already belongs to documentarian Alex Gibney’s Casino Jack and the United States of Money (which will undoubtedly get a bump in visibility following the buzz around Hickenlooper’s film). Casino Jack still manages to hit all the necessary story beats and fill-in the gaps with fictionalized, but honest, emotional performances by the cast.

Casino Jack Kevin Spacey Jon Lovitz Casino Jack Review

As Jack Abramoff, Kevin Spacey succeeds in a nearly-impossible challenge: finding humanity and charm in a man who is genuinely guilty of a laundry list of selfish and abhorrent ongoing criminal activity: bribing public officials, defrauding American Indian tribes, as well as devious business practices that, although Abramoff didn’t know at the time, led to the murder of SunCruz Casinos’ owner, Konstantinos “Gus” Boulis.

However, despite the enormous number of people who Abramoff hurt or took advantage of – Spacey manages to keep the character grounded, tapping into his devout Jewish Orthodox beliefs, his devotion to his family, as well as his penchant for movie-character impersonations. Whether frank, charming, or angry, Spacey captures a real man, not the media caricature many have come to know, who could not see the forest for the trees.

Barry Pepper also delivers as Abramoff’s business partner, Michael Scanlon, who acts as an enjoyable foil for the mostly cool and crafty character portrayed by Kevin Spacey. Pepper’s Scanlon is often in-over-his-head, which drives Abramoff into dangerous waters without anything substantial to cling to when all of their shady dealings begin to catch up with them. Similarly, Jon Lovitz utilizes his usual comedic shtick, offers a performance that isn’t too over-the-top and successfully compliments the rest of the cast. Sure, it’s still type casting and not all that different from other roles that Lovitz has portrayed in the past, but he finds the right line between smarmy mattress salesman and the kind of person that could conceivably stand alongside a big-wig like Jack Abramoff.

Casino Jack Barry Pepper Jon Lovitz Casino Jack Review

This balance between the unconscionable Abramoff dealings and the comedy of the insecure, as well as desperate, men behind them is what makes the story of the real-life Casino Jack such a compelling film. The ultimate message of the film can be heavy-handed at times; but if nothing else, the film raises awareness and prompts discussion, regarding the influential role of lobbyists in Washington D.C. – and the dangers that arise when backdoor deals take precedent over the well-being, and best interest, of the American people.

With so many high-profile films vying for moviegoers’ attention in the coming weeks, Casino Jack may get a bit lost in the shuffle. The film may not have 3D effects or CGI cartoon characters, but as a result of Hickenlooper’s approach to the subject matter, coupled with a terrific performance by Kevin Spacey, Casino Jack manages to be both enjoyable comedic entertainment as well as thought provoking social commentary.

If you’re still trying to make up your mind, check out the trailer for Casino Jack below:

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Follow us on Twitter @benkendrick and @screenrant and let us know what you thought of the film.

Casino Jack is currently playing in Los Angeles and New York and will open for wide release on Wednesday, December 22nd.

Our Rating:

4 out of 5
(Excellent)

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  1. Looks good

  2. the Space Man is back, i can’t wait, also it’s been a while since i saw Jon Lovitz in anything so that’ll be fun

  3. A welcome surprise …

    The film really packs in a lot of information but does so in a way that doesn’t slow the narrative to a crawl. Spacey is flat-out terrific.

  4. I will have to check this out.

  5. “Casino Jack” was driven by it anti-Republican agenda. Spacey played Abramoff like a glib hipster with no guiding principles and little intelligence (other than the devious, manipulative sort). There’s no sense in the script or characterization that he could have been elected to head local political organizations, or risen to a national level through savvy (and mostly legit) maneuvers. Spacey’s Vegas lounge lizard antics is more in tune with the Rat Pack, which is why the soundtrack is more evocative of Sinatra’s swingin’ ’60s than the 1980s and ’90s.

    Filmmakers are so sympathetic to the redemptive sides of mass killers, adulterers and pedophiles. But when it comes to a member of the GOP greasing the political tracks for his cause, suddenly he is evil incarnate. Abramoff may have deserved his prison sentence, but movie-goers deserve a nuanced portrait of the real human being at the film’s heart, not a sledgehammer to the side of their head.

    • SmokinT, what are you smoking? I saw this movie today and it is not anti-republican other than the republicans represented were Abramoffs stomping ground and where he found willing politicians as greedy as he was. The movie is about the system and everyone knows that Democrats and Republicans are both guilty of graft, corruption at the hands of corporate lobbyists. The system makes no sense really and being the anniversary of the high courts decision to treat corporations like people has proven that unless we repeal and regulate these guys, the situation will only get worse. The government is supposed to be for the people, not for Bank of America, AIG, Healthnet and Bear Sterns. This movie and the real life events that led to it are proof that Washington and many of its leaders are only out for themselves. I hope this changes before its to late for everyone.

  6. Just picked this up, might watch it tonight.

  7. Interesting drama-documetary.

    Spacey was laid back in this character. The supprting cast was great, including a stand out performance by Jon Lovitz.

    The writing was excellent. I would classifly the film as a must for Spacey fans, other then that its a heavy on the documentary side and cerebral for most looking for a action/drama film.