Hollywood must have been chomping at the bit to tell the story of disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Today’s filmmakers relish the chance to bring down GOP-friendly targets and aren’t above twisting the facts to do so. Consider Fair Game, the new film which buries the identity of the leaker in the Valerie Plame case until the film’s waning moments, the better to slander folks like Karl Rove and Scooter Libby. Roger L. Simon and Lionel Chetwynd dubbed it “Hollywood’s Most Untruthful Film of the Year,” in a recent edition of their Poliwood show on PJTV.
And the 2008 film W. portrayed a two-term Republican president as a notch or two above a dunce.
Abramoff doesn’t deserve our sympathy. The super-lobbyist swindled Native American tribes out of millions and managed to make dirty politics even dirtier with his fiscal high jinks.
So it’s fascinating to see Casino Jack, a film that dares to make Abramoff a flawed but very human character. Yes, the new film demonizes the figures swirling around the scandal and makes sure not to slam the Democrats who got caught up in the scandal. But Casino Jack entertains first and foremost, something the aforementioned films couldn’t be bothered to do.
Two-time Oscar winner Kevin Spacey stars as Abramoff, a well connected lobbyist whose ambitions far outstrip his moral code. His work on behalf of Native American tribes takes a nasty turn when he realizes he can charge exorbitant fees in exchange for his political connections.
He’s egged on by his right-hand man Mike Scanlon (an oily Barry Pepper) and the chance to live a life that’s anything but mediocre. Spacey delivers a telling monologue in the film’s opening scene that shows Abramoff’s inability to accept anything save greatness.
Abramoff’s schemes start to pay off, but his ego and bank account aren’t satisfied. He learns of a floundering Florida casino and enlists a shady businessman (Jon Lovitz) to help revive it. Lovitz’s post-Saturday Night Live career has been fitfully creative at best. Here, he’s perfectly cast as the kind of moral cretin who sometimes succeeds in our culture — for a while.