Directed by George Hickenlooper
Starring Kevin Spacey, Kelly Preston, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz
Disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff is one of recent history’s most fascinating figures. From his rapid rise to the pinnacle of Washington society through his equally prodigious fall on federal corruption charges, he’s a Greek tragedy personified and a great movie subject.
Unfortunately “Casino Jack,” directed by the late George Hickenlooper (“Hearts of Darkness”) bungles its terrific opportunity. A stagy, texture-less affair, it presents Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) as a manipulative figure infused with unchecked machismo, a junkie perpetually high on wheeling, dealing and making money.
Little attempt is made to probe below that superficial conceit, to draw out the deeply ingrained feelings that drove the lobbyist to his illegal behavior, or to evoke the grand, dramatic emotions that must have accompanied such a spectacular fall from grace.
Instead, Hickenlooper offers a one-dimensional portrait of the jacked-up Abramoff and colleague Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) screaming into phones, frantically pitching tribal groups and congressmen and conversing in frat-house “dude” vernacular. The sitcom-like frenzy of activity is presented largely without context, with the filmmaker placing his faith in the audience’s prior knowledge of the events at hand.
While logical, the decision leads to a mistaken emphasis on the business, the perpetual motion of Abramoff’s life rather than the essence of the headline-grabbing title character. Snappily paced and engaging at times, “Casino Jack” comes up short where it matters most.