Casino Jack is the last film from late director George Hickenlooper, who died on October 30, 2010. Most well known for his documentary Hearts of Darkness, chronicling the nightmare of a movie shoot for Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, Hickenlooper was also responsible for films like Factory Girl and Mayor of the Sunset Strip. With Casino Jack, Hickenlooper takes a look at Jack Abramoff, the famed US lobbyist who was charged with defrauding American Indian tribes, corrupting public officials, tax evasion, conspiracy and other things.
For those unfamiliar with Jack Abramoff and his shenanigans, the film tries to make it pretty easy and clear, by clearly outlining all the characters and explicitly displaying who Abramoff was and what he did. If you’re not up to speed on politics, or American politics, you may be a bit lost at times, and you may not get as much out of the film as you otherwise could, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t enjoyable.
Being a Canadian, and mostly unfamiliar with American politics and the actions of Jack Abramoff, I did find myself lost or confused at times, but Hickenlooper tries his best not to complicate things too much. That being said, those who are familiar with the Abramoff situation will get more out of the film.
While a film about politics and lobbyists could quickly turn into a chance to catch up on some sleep, Hickenlooper’s Casino Jack is anything but dull and it’s the furthest thing away from boring. Much of the film’s success is due to the absolutely brilliant performances all around. Spacey is downright phenomenal in the role and it is one of his best performances in years. Supporting him are Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz and Kelly Preston. Everyone is working their A-game here and all the performances are top notch.
Spacey creates such an intriguing character, that even if you’re lost due to all the political jargon, you’re still compelled to watch. One particular scene at the end, that sees Abramoff in a court room, shows us why Spacey is one of the best in the business.
What I liked about the film is that it didn’t waste time. It got right to the point and didn’t bore the viewer with unnecessary scenes and extraneous dialogue, Casino Jack moves at a brisk pace and rarely has a dull moment. It’s a very dense film, there is a lot here and some scenes don’t last more than a few minutes. A lot happens and there is a lot to keep up with. The pacing of the film feels in line with Abramoff’s life and personality. Go, go, go, always moving, always working for the next thing.
It’s sharp, snappy and always exciting. It manages to be witty without being pretentious and it’s always careful on what side to take. Hickenlooper has a very objective approach here and it shows. We see both Jack’s good and bad side and it’s all presented in a very straightforward manner.
What few faults the film does have never put too much of a damper on things. Due to the fast paced nature, you may have trouble keeping up. It moves fast, and if you’re not familiar with the events here, you’re going to be confused about certain things. It would have been nice to see a bit more detail on a few of the events here but it’s not too big of a concern.
In conclusion, Casino Jack is solid on almost all fronts. Spacey plays the role like the pro he is and Hickenlooper has put together a fairly good film. I didn’t expect much going into the film, having not known much about who Abramoff was or what he did. I was pleasantly surprised though and I’d definitely recommend seeing it.