With an opening monologue and a climactic fantasy sequence drawn from prison conversations with its subject, George Hickenlooper's "Casino Jack" takes a sympathetic but sidelong look at Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose 2006 conviction on charges of conspiracy and mail fraud toppled more than a few political dominoes. In every frame of this cynical satire you can hear Abramoff's justification for fee-skimming, favor-trading and bribery: What's the big deal?
Hickenlooper, who died in October, cast Kevin Spacey as Abramoff, a perfect fit for the slightly slippery, not-quite-transparent actor. The fine supporting players include Barry Pepper as Abramoff's excitable partner Mike Scanlon, Rachelle Lefevre as Mike's vengeful girlfriend and Spencer Garrett in a dead-on portrayal of Abramoff's buddy Tom DeLay, the pious Texas representative recently convicted of money laundering.
The movie's model is "GoodFellas," less for the Mafia connection (though Jon Lovitz is marvelous as a fourth-rate mobster) than for the frenetic rhythm and sense of impending collapse. It's all quite entertaining, if not terribly illuminating; you'll find a more thorough study in Alex Gibney's documentary "Casino Jack and the United States of Money." Abramoff may yet tell his version; he was released from prison last month.