Casino Jack

Casino Jack directed by George Hickenlooper (who died just before the film was released) with a screenplay by Norman Snider, is a fictionalized depiction of the Jack Abramoff scandals, with Kevin Spacey in the role of the unscrupulous lobbyist. (Spacey is very good, by the way, as are the other actors in this film.) I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, so I was surprised that Rotten Tomatoes only gave it a 40% fresh rating. The most common complaint in the comments section was that the film doesn’t really explain what makes Abramoff tick. That is true, but a similar criticism could made of many other films. Does The Social Network really explain what makes Mark Zuckerberg tick? I don’t think so. Another complaint that some made was that they found it confusing. I didn’t. Others complained about making a comedy about a man whose actions hurt other people. That argument seems strange to me, when I consider that one of the most popular and critically acclaimed comedies ever made, Dr. Strangelove, is about nuclear holocaust. It doesn’t get any darker than that.

I suspect that what really bothers people about this movie is its frank depiction of the pervasive corruption in our political system. Indeed, the film suggests that Abramoff’s real crimes in the eyes of the government were that he was reckless, indiscreet and actually not very bright. In one scene, a fellow lobbyist warns Abramoff that K Street (where many lobbying firms are located in Washington) is afraid that his relentless self-promotion will draw people’s attention to what they are doing. When Abramoff is called before a Senate committee, he notes that some of the Senators condemning him received money from groups that he represented.

I suspect what may also bother people about this movie is its depiction of religious hypocrisy. Abramoff considers himself to be a devout orthodox Jew. He uses some of his ill-gotten gains to fund the building of a religious school. Some of his partners in crime, such as Tom DeLay, consider themselves to be devout Christians. The film doesn’t explain this behavior, but that is not the point. The point is to show the human capacity for self-delusion. It is also to warn us that we shouldn’t be taken in by politicians who talk about their belief in religious values.

I highly recommend seeing Casino Jack.

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