Film and TV

As 'Casino' Jack Abramoff, Kevin Spacey shows his patently smooth insincerity

The late George Hickenlooper's Casino Jack is an improbably blithe cautionary tale, recounting the rise and fall of D.C. super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. "You're either a big-leaguer or you're a slave clawing your way onto the C train," the avid antihero (Kevin Spacey) tells his mirrored reflection in the pre-credit sequence; most everything that follows in this flat, obvious movie is filtered through Abramoff's consciousness and dominated by Spacey's patented brand of smooth insincerity. Screenwriter Norman Snider downplays Abramoff's career as a hard-right political operative in favor of the fun of his wheeler-dealerism and personal eccentricities. The presence of Tom DeLay and Karl Rove look-alikes notwithstanding, the notion of a permanent lobbocracy is underdeveloped. Abramoff is a weirdly self-righteous hustler, devoted to faith and family, shaking down Native Americans and a Greek gangster to finance his plans for a Jewish school and a K Street kosher deli. In the grand finale, Abramoff fantasizes about using a Senate hearing to blow the whistle on the entire corrupt establishment. His rant offers a clue to how this movie might have honed its political edge. Although Abramoff is no longer in jail in real life, the movie ends with the perp behind bars. He exits on a cloud of hot air, threatening to expose the Republicans on his release. (Hickenlooper, the cousin of Colorado governor-elect John Hickenlooper, died in October while he was in town for the Denver Film Festival, where Casino Jack was feted.)

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J. Hoberman
Contact: J. Hoberman