- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © ATO Films
Reviewed by Jason Newman
n the aftermath of the 2008 U.S. economy clusterfuck, Icarus has proven to be a lasting character study. As America wakes up the next morning, only to find that too many Jaeger bombs have distorted the seemingly gorgeous person in bed next to you and the bar owner willingly served you roofie-laced shots, the era of redemption – or lack thereof – is upon us.
The latest film in the "I got big and powerful and let it all go to my head and then did something illegal but, y'know, no biggie, right?" genre comes from George Hickenlooper's "Casino Jack," the tale of disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey), a smooth-talking, heavily-connected Washington insider who was sentenced to four years in prison on conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion amid a slew of other white collar crimes.
"Without lobbyists, the wheels of Washington would come to a grinding halt," says Abramoff, crushing the dreams of a million idealists in the audience. He's sadly right, of course, and in one line, sets the backdrop of the entire movie. The film focuses on two of Abramoff's many high-profile projects. In SunCruz, former Abramoff business partner, fast-talking, mob-connected lawyer and all-around sleazeball Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) helps engineer a scheme to defraud a casino cruise ship business. In the other, more public, scandal, Abramoff and his team of douchebags overbilled his clients, a group of Native American casino owners, and split the profits. It was a classic rainmaker scam: secretly lobby against your own clients so they'll have to pay you more money to lobby for them more. Classy.
Tragically, Hickenlooper died before he could see the release of his film, but his swan song keeps things fast-paced, never forgetting that while ostensibly a story about politics, the underlying, and more important, subtext of "Casino Jack" is the ease in which power – especially the type attained as quickly as Abramoff's was – can go to a man's head.
At the risk of understating Hickenlooper's role, though, "Casino Jack" lives and dies by Spacey's portrayal of the titular character. Spacey is, as is expected at this point, brilliant, simultaneously painting Abramoff as a slick, snake oil salesman; a vulnerable, wounded soldier firmly believing he's doing the right thing; and a liberal in conservative clothing, bilking his clients to build schools and ice hockey rinks and whatever else middle-age, grossly overpaid people do. A screed against mediocrity early on in the film, similar to Edward Norton's "Fuck you" speech in "25th Hour," will stand as one of Spacey's career highlights.
The success of "Casino Jack" then may be more a question of marketing than story. The film relates a universal tale of power and hubris that happens to be set among the political elite of Washington (Or "Hollywood with ugly faces," as Abramoff wryly notes). Though in its depiction of political inside baseball, will those not interested in politics that have never heard the name Jack Abramoff, much less be familiar with his transgressions, care? Hopefully there is someone in Hollywood half as slick as Abramoff who can convince the American people they should.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
Following the untimely death of director George Hickenlooper, you’d think that 20th Century Fox would have put together a nice feature dedicated to him for the Blu-ray release, but unfortunately, that isn’t the case. There is a cool photo diary, however, which features a gallery of behind-the-scenes pictures from production with text commentary from Hickenlooper, as well as a handful of deleted scenes and a gag reel. Not bad for a movie that didn’t have much of a theatrical run.