Casino Jack

25 Dec

Title: Casino Jack
George Hickenlooper
Norman Snider
Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle Lefevre, Maury Chaykin
MPAA Rating:
R, pervasive language, some violence and brief nudity
108 min
Major Awards:
IMDb Rating:
Rotten Tomatoes:

Casino Jack tells the story of infamous Jack Abramoff, a lobbyist and businessman who was at the center of a huge corruption scandal. But it’s a fictionalized account in some parts, all to make this film that much funnier and that much more entertaining. And while I didn’t think Casino Jack was a knockout, I did find myself enjoying it quite a bit, especially because of Kevin Spacey, who plays Abramoff. Mr. Spacey, one of my five favorite living actors, has already been nominated for a Golden Globe for his performance here, and it really is thanks to him that this film is a success.

However, as good as Mr. Spacey can be, it kinda felt at times as though the director wasn’t really able to keep up what he was pulling off as Abramoff. For all the one-liners Mr. Spacey nails, there are many other unsatisfying moments, and even though he gets down perfectly all of Abramoff’s character traits, we are never given a good explanation as to why the guy was like that, I mean, we do get a glimpse of his background, but nothing that substantial. I don’t know, a big part of me liked Casino Jack, but you really can’t help but feel that this one could have been a helluva lot better. And I hear there’s a documentary called Casino Jack and the United States of Money which was released this year which is a better and more factual look at the story.

I feel as though I’m criticizing Casino Jack here, when in reality I thought it was a very competent film, and had Mr. Spacey showing us just how good an actor he is, and if the film as a whole had been better, this one would surely have stood as one of his better performances. And I would actually recommend you to go see Casino Jack if only because of Mr. Spacey’s performance in it, I don’t care how fictionalized an account this may be, he’s still electrifying in his performance. And there’s also a really fun turn by Jon Lovitz here, who can be really entertaining to watch.

Plus, because George Hickenlooper, the film’s director who passed away two months ago, decides to focus so extensively on the comedic elements of Norman Snider’s script we do get this just very fun look at Abramoff’s eccentricities. This was never intended as a serious look at the morality behind it all, it just wanted to have fun in its exuberant outlook.

I saw Mr. Spacey’s apperance on Conan a few days before I saw the film, and in it we were shown a clip of the movie which has Mr. Spacey as Abramoff delivering a monologue to himself in front of a mirror, trying to psych himself up, which is one of the first scenes in the film. And I thought that scene would set the mood awesomely for the film, the speech was loud and funny and powerful and narcissistic. And while many parts of the film do have that mood, and those are the best parts of it, there are other parts in which the film seemingly doesn’t find its niche, and it stumbles trying to find the right tone.

And it’s really not the faults of the actors. Because the Abramoff story is full of colorful individuals, and the actors the film has on display do their best to bring them to life. Mr. Spacey is obviously incendiary. Mr. Lovitz is fun. There’s also Rachelle Lefevre, who I deeply enjoyed as Emily, the fiancée of Michael Scanlon, Abramoff’s partner who’s also played very well by Barry Pepper. So yes, the huge array of personalities are all handled very well by the actors chosen to play them out. But I thought Mr. Hickenlooper didn’t show as much finesse as a director because there are times in which it’s all a bit messy, and he can’t seem to balance all these characters in a cohesive manner.

Now, Mr. Hickenlooper is a man who has made Heart of Darkness, a documentary about the making of Apocalypse Now, and that was a very riveting look at a real life story. And yet both in this one and in Factory Girl, a film he made four years ago about the life of Edie Sedgwick, he doesn’t achieve the same depth of exploration into his real-life subjects, and just offers a very superficial look that doesn’t work all that well. Factory Girl obviously had a very good performance by Sienna Miller, and in this one he has an extraordinary one by Mr. Spacey, so a killer turn from his stars has saved him both times.

And I’m throwing all this sort of negativity towards Casino Jack because I’m entirely convinced this one could have been so much better. It’s still good, but if it had been just a bit more coherent and less fictionalized it would have been golden, because Mr. Spacey’s performance, in all its aggressiveness and grandiosity, is a truly magnificent building block the director didn’t take that much advantage of.

Still, go see this one. It’s still fun, I’m just pissed off cause it could have been better. It’s just that for a film that’s based on such a rich real life story, this one tackles too many stuff for it to make it enlightening regarding that tale, and had the reigns been given to steadier hands the result would have mostly likely been more memorable. Instead what we get is an entertaining fictionalized portrayal of a man that existed and whose real story would have been a better watch, but at least the portrayal we get is acted by a man who’s one of the best in the business, and that’s why the film works.

Grade: B


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