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Capone says Keven Spacey's telling of CASINO JACK Abramoff is a unsatisfying mess!!!

Published at: Dec. 31, 2010, 11:47 a.m. CST by Capone

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

I'd warn you not to confuse this feature film starring Kevin Spacey for the Alex Gibney-directed documentary CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY, which came out early in 2010, but I don't think there's any chance of that happening. The documentary is an intricately researched, wonderfully edited, and thoughtfully told story about super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff (played in the feature by Spacey), who, during the Bush Administration practically invented new ways to bilk clients out of millions of dollars in fees for essentially doing nothing. Along with his apprentice/partner in crime Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), he also fortified the pipeline that funneled cash from special interest groups to members of Congress, and didn't think twice about it. The doc is a stinging indictment of influence peddling, while the feature, CASINO JACK, is more of a spectacle, emphasizing only the most outrageous things Abramoff and his team did, rather than really dig down to the more underhanded, quiet brand of sleaze he got his hands into.

CASINO JACK bounces from K Street offices in Washington D.C. to sweat shops in Saipan and the Northern Mariana Islands to tribal gambling operations to the halls of government and lawmaking on Capitol Hill, never quite telling the full story or even highlighting the most dramatic, disgusting aspects of its subject's dealings. And it spends too much time on nonsense, such as his using members of organized crime (here represented by Jon Lovitz as a blundering mob-contacted associate and Maury Chaykin as a character known as "Big Tony"--give me a break) to do his bidding on occasion.

What is far more interesting (and covered much better in the doc) are Abramoff's convincing members of Congress to ignore human rights violations in certain Southeast Asian nations so they can trade cheap goods in the U.S. Even more fascinating is how devoted a husband, father, and Jew he was, while still managing to be a colossal scumbag in the public sector. His wife Pam (Kelly Preston) is barely noticed in CASINO JACK.

The only part of Abramoff's many sins that gets the attention it deserves is his treatment of the Native Americans, including two leaders played by the great Graham Greene and Eric Schweig. In various emails and texts between him and Scanlon, Abramoff essentially buried himself and guaranteed he was going to jail (he was just released in the last month to a halfway house). Spacey does his best at attempting to see inside the mind and capture the often outlandish behavior of someone who is both an expert at lying to others and also does a pretty remarkable job of living in a self-delusional world. Spacey and the director, the late George Hickenlooper (HEARTS OF DARKNESS; FACTORY GIRL), don't do a particular strong job (especially compared to the documentary) connecting all the dots between Abramoff, Sen. Tom DeLay (Spencer Garrett), and the Bush Administration, but even without the easy comparison, CASINO JACK feels like we're skating over Abramoff's life and career rather than doing some real digging to make the film a genuine character study.

I can't say I ever saw Jack Abramoff working behind the scenes to scam his clients, but I don't think he did so quite in the same manner as Spacey portrays him. In the public eye, Abramoff was confident but in a subdued way. In CASINO JACK he's a wild man with expensive tastes and zero sense of how deep into financial ruin he was driving himself, his family and his company (he didn't really care about his clients). Spacey's version and the Abramoff I've actually seen in footage don't jive. It's like Spacey read a book on how to play a wheeler-dealer and just went with it. He's a gifted actor, but I can see him trying here, and it's distracting. Pepper's young turk of a sidekick, Scanlon, is far more layered and interesting character. Again, I have no idea what the man was truly like, but at least Pepper seems to be dialing back the frat-boy persona to give us something underneath to façade. The film made me almost more interested in Scanlon than Abramoff.

CASINO JACK is a disappointing failure, and in the halls of cinema history, it will be logged in as a footnote to the much better documentary. I do believe true-life stories are the toughest to get correct. When it happens, you get THE SOCIAL NETWORK; when it falters, you get CASINO JACK. And, no, I'm not here to argue whether one is more accurate in terms of the facts or not. That's not the point. Compelling cinema based on a true story is it's own creature, whether the facts are 100 percent right or not. CASINO JACK's biggest crime is missing prime opportunities to make fictionalized drama out of some pretty horrendous behavior on the part of Abramoff and his cronies. And that's unforgivable.

-- Capone capone@aintitcool.com
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Readers Talkback

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  • Dec. 31, 2010, 12:02 p.m. CST

    Spacy is one fo those actors with a few exceptional roles

    by LargoJr

    ...but by & large has 'phoned it in' for the majority of his career. I don't like him much, never have, and honestly don't look forward to anything he might come out with in the future.

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 12:18 p.m. CST

    Where's your Top Ten list Capone?

    by D.Vader

    Or Massa's? Or anyone's? Slackers! And didn't Spacey get a nomination for some acting award for this role? Undeservered you think? And does it matter if your impression of Abramoff and Spacey's take on him doesn't jive? Does it really, when it comes to a movie on a character you truly don't know? It seems like you're criticizing Spacey based on how you *expect* the man to be like in real life, and that seems like an unfair stance to take. Yea or nay?

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 12:52 p.m. CST

    Sad to hear this...

    by eustisclay

    ...especially since Hickenlooper was an acclaimed documentary filmmakker in his own right and died here in Denver right as his film was getting ready to premier and he was celebrating his cousin becoming the governor elect. But I guess if you're gonna die, it's good to go out at a moment when everything is going great. But another stupid death concrning some kind of mixture of prescription drugs(Heath Ledger, Greg Geraldo, Michael Jackson). Whatever happened to the good old days when our celebrities died from injesting massive amounts of cocaine and heroin?

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 12:54 p.m. CST

    AN unsatisfying mess. AN.

    by BeastOfGevaudan

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 3:15 p.m. CST

    Goddamn liberals.

    by THE_CHOPPAH

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 3:15 p.m. CST

    Abramoff was just making a living rooted in the system.

    by THE_CHOPPAH

    A LIBERAL system.

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 3:26 p.m. CST

    Capone

    by BadMrWonka

    I'm sure the movie is as crappy as you say, but the "Big Tony" character is a real dude, who was an associate of Abramoff. His real name is Anthony Moscatiello. He is, in fact, big, and he does go by the name, Big Tony. So that is one thing you can't blame the filmmakers for. Everything else is fair game.

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 3:39 p.m. CST

    Damn liberals

    by Monolith_Jones

    Never wanna blow up nothin

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 4:44 p.m. CST

    You know Maury Chaykin died in July, right?

    by NoArrow

    I ask because you say "the late George Hickenlooper" but no "late Maury Chaykin," and I don't remember any coverage (other than in a Toronto newspaper) at the time of his death. Anyway, great actor. Will probably get passed over in the memorial section of the Oscars.

  • Dec. 31, 2010, 7:17 p.m. CST

    Spacey's ego and sense of self-entitlement

    by SmokingRobot

    are getting progressively more visible on screen with each movie. This man needs to re-think things. I used to be a big fan. Now, not so much. All I see anymore when I see Kevin Spacey is KEVIN SPACEY. That aint good.

  • Jan. 1, 2011, 1:44 a.m. CST

    They flat-out made shit up in Social Network...

    by JuanSanchez

    Gotta have some commitment to reality or what's the point?

  • Jan. 1, 2011, 1:45 a.m. CST

    I remember hearing about Chaykin. He will be missed.

    by JuanSanchez

  • Jan. 1, 2011, 11:56 a.m. CST

    Who's this "Keven Spacey" fellow?

    by F-18

  • Jan. 1, 2011, 8:03 p.m. CST

    "Keven" is "an" brother of Kevin.

    by phifty2

  • Jan. 2, 2011, 3:22 a.m. CST

    Hey, could I get a new review?

    by jonathancaltman

    ....Of the actual movie, a fictionalized account of something I'm only slightly aware of? It's great that you watched a documentary about it. I haven't. I'd really like to hear about the movie, not what you learned from a non-fiction piece. Come on, Capone. I expect a lot more from you.

  • Jan. 3, 2011, 12:50 a.m. CST

    I've heard Kevin Spacey is a faggot

    by _Venkman

    discuss.

  • Jan. 3, 2011, 2:40 p.m. CST

    What can you expect from pedo crackheads?

    by venvariants

    Seriously. Of course it's a mess.