• Casino Jack


    Released By: 20th Century Fox
    Released On: 04/05/2011
    Director: George Hickenlooper
    Cast: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Ruth Marshall, Graham Greene

    The Film:

    You could make a dozen movies about Jack Abramoff, and still not tell the whole story. In fact, two movies were made about him in 2010; the documentary film Casino Jack and the United States of Money, and the larger-budgeted feature film, simply titled Casino Jack. Both films are important in the information that they cover, and I recently had the privilege of watching the feature film version of the story for review.

    If you’re unfamiliar with Jack Abramoff, the best descriptions that can be attributed to his character are those of super-lobbyist and Con Man. Using his Republican ties to the White House as well as a number of rather unsavoury partners, Jack’s money-making schemes finally came to an end in 2008, when he was convicted on a number of felony charges including conspiracy, fraud, and tax evasion.

    Director George Hickenlooper has done a fantastic job with Casino Jack, which was the last film that he completed before what was deemed as an “accidental overdose”. Kevin Spacey is convincing as Abramoff, dropping most of his Spacey-like characteristics to play the lobbyist, and Barry Pepper is also very good as Mike Scanlon, Abramoff’s business partner. Starting with his lobbying efforts to keep minimum wage laws off of the books, we see Abramoff taking huge payoffs for this endeavour from business owners in the Northern Mariana Islands, who are essentially running sweatshops there because they can label the products “Made in the U.S.A.” due to their commonwealth status.

    Furthering his status as a hero/scumbag, Jack also lobbies against legislation to tax Indian Casinos, successfully defeating the motion and in turn taking a massive thank-you card worth millions of dollars from his friends on the reservation. His misstep in this case is that he has to bump Indian Council Chair Bernie Sprague (Graham Greene) out of a job, a move that will ultimately come back to haunt him. As his net worth escalates and his Senate contacts become closer and more appreciative of the kickbacks from these deals, Jack opens restaurants, Hebrew schools, finally settling his sites on a business of cruise ship casinos, owned by a rather angry gentleman; an angry gentleman who doesn’t appreciate the fake wire-transfer used to buy out his holdings in the company, or his mobbed-up, ex-lawyer successor, Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz). With so many variables in the balance, everything must inevitably collapse, resulting in massive damages to Abramoff and everyone around him.

    Despite the subject matter being almost entirely political, a subject that generally bores me to tears, I very much enjoyed Casino Jack. The performances here are all top notch, with Spacey and Barry Pepper exceeding expectations. Canadian actor Graham Greene turns in a more intimidating performance than he’s generally known for as Bernie Sprague, and “Canada’s Marlon Brando”, Maury Chaykin, chews up his screen time as mobster Big Tony. Unfortunately, this would also be one of Chaykin’s last films, as he, like Hickenlooper, passed away in 2010.

    Filmed almost entirely in Hamilton and Toronto, Ontario, the film has quite a few locations that some of us Canadians will be familiar with, but they are not as out of place as one would think; this is not Vancouver doubling as Manhattan. The pacing is tight, the humour and drama are well-balanced, thanks to Norman Snider's screenplay, and Casino Jack is an excellent swan song for two very talented artists.

    Video/Audio/Extras:

    20th Century Fox brings Casino Jack to blu ray with a 2.35:1 transfer that isn’t going to blow your mind with show-off quality, but looks great. Contrast levels, colour dynamics, etc, are well balanced, and there’s nary a spec of artifacting to be found. The DTS-HD MA 5.1 track is equally as good, though you shouldn’t expect too much from the surrounds.

    First up in supplements is perhaps the first still gallery that I’ve ever watched and enjoyed. Casino Jack-A Director’s Photo Diary is made up of a number of production stills taken by Director Hickenlooper on the set, with an option to bring up a descriptive text box. A good amount of detail about location shots can be found, as well as some other humourous ramblings.

    Next up is a Gag Reel that runs just over 8 minutes, and 9 minutes of Deleted Scenes.

    Overall:


    Quite a surprise, Casino Jack is one of the better films that I’ve seen lately, and one of the best from the mediocre year that was 2010. Fox has done a great job of presenting the film with some solid extras.
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      It may interest you to know that Abramoff also produced Dolph Lundgren's RED SCORPION with money from Washington, and the help of some rather questionable people in South Africa.


      Steve found this film to be intriguing with excellent performances, and gave it 4/4 born in Canada paws.
    1. Mark Tolch's Avatar
      Mark Tolch -
      Somebody at the Denver Post picked this review up on Twitter and retweeted it....thinking it was about Governor John Hickenlooper. Haha, oops.