Casino Jack
The casinos I go to aren’t this fancy, I’m used to lemons, cherries and such.

Theatrical Release Date: 05/21/2010
Director: Alex Gibney

Film maker Alex Gibney has brought some of the better documentaries to audiences in the last few years (“Taxi to the Dark Side”, “Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room”). Sadly, it’s hard to maintain such excellence and I don’t foresee the same amount of appreciation for his latest effort, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”.

The documentary focuses on lobbyist Jack Abramoff and his disreputable practice of lining lawmakers’ pockets with money in exchange for their vote. As those who follow politics are well aware, his dealings brought down Texas representative Tom DeLay and fellow congressman Bob Ney of Ohio.

The greatest/saddest of Abramoff’s schemes involved bilking Indian tribes out of millions of dollars, promising them help with getting casino friendly litigation passed. As he cajoled and bought off votes, he also pocketed a great deal of the cash and was eventually brought before congress and raked over the coals.

The documentary plays out like a well-researched news exposé, listing all the shady dealings Abramoff and his partners were involved in and chronicling how the money affected what laws were passed or repealed. This, however, is the central problem with the film. Sure, many facts are laid out for the audience but where is the insight and provocation of thought? What needs to happen in our current political system to stop lobbyists from controlling Congress?

There is a mention of the recent act to allow corporations to spend an unrestricted amount of money on campaign commercials but instead of focusing on how this could affect American politics, it’s merely a footnote. I understand that Gibney wanted to present Abramoff’s insane rise to power and fall from grace while at the same time highlighting that our elected officials are there for the taking but why does that take two hours?

I doubt it comes as any surprise to people that ‘cash rules everything around us’ (to paraphrase the Wu-Tang Clan). What Gibney should have done is give audiences this information in the first half and spent the last hour examining the people and methods trying to combat rampant corruption. Instead, this is a dry retelling of a series of news items one could simply read on Wikipedia for free. (The listing of items in the press notes hold more useful and interesting information about lobbying and the laws surrounding it than the feature itself).

The bottom line is that if you’ve followed the Abramoff scandal, you already know nearly everything in the film and it’s not entertaining enough in its presentation to make retelling you those items worth the trip to the theater. If you aren’t aware, you probably don’t care though (and may already think that a majority of government officials are on the take so what’s the big deal anyway). As such, I’m not sure who would really enjoy seeing “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” and can only give the film a 2 out of 5.

For fun trivia knowledge, Gibney used two well known actors to do voice-over work for Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon’s e-mails and such (Stanley Tucci and Paul Rudd respectively). This doesn’t do anything for the film but it’s something to use as small talk if you get bored at a cocktail party I guess.