Casino Jack

Casino Jack

2010, R, 108 min. Directed by George Hickenlooper. Starring Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle Lefevre, Spencer Garrett, Maury Chaykin.

REVIEWED By Kimberley Jones, Fri., Jan. 7, 2011

Musically scored like a Sixties sex comedy and edited, seemingly, with the aid of an egg timer, Casino Jack moves with such manic determination it all but reaches out from the screen and shakes you by the collar: "See, movies about lobbyists can be fun!" It's all so I'm Dancing as Fast as I Can that eventually I just gave in – from sheer exhaustion, really – and mostly enjoyed the late George Hickenlooper's dramatization of the sensational rise and then super-splat of K-Street con man Jack Abramoff. (Hickenlooper died suddenly just two days after screening Casino Jack at the 2010 Austin Film Festival.) Curiously, Alex Gibney's superior documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money has a similarly wearying effect; perhaps both filmmakers felt so much razzmatazz was required to keep viewers hooked into a members-only Washington scandal. They needn't have worried, not with "you can't make this up, folks!" plot points like Mafia whackings, offshore sweatshops, and a spurned Native American community leader who goes off the reservation and right into a Senate hearing as a material witness and chief instigator in the case against Abramoff. While the film doesn't absolve the disgraced (then incarcerated) lobbyist, it does go to great pains to paint him as a family man and man of faith, despite the curious and rather sordid company he keeps (the film is filled out with terrific character actors, including Pepper as Abramoff's spittling protégé Michael Scanlon, Lovitz as a disbarred lawyer and drunk business partner, and the marvelously fat and craggy Chaykin, who died last July, as a mafioso). Spacey, as Abramoff, has some springy moments as a goof quoting movies at inopportune times and as a shark prowling the waters for his next money-making venture. Despite his character's fondness for mugging and mouthing like Michael Corleone, Spacey (and by extension, his director and writer Norman Snider) can't quite catch the operatic wallop of Corleone's arc, possibly because the film is played top-to-bottom like a caprice. (See the Picture in Picture blog for an interview with Hickenlooper.)

More Casino Jack
Hickenlooper Lobbies for 'Casino Jack'
Hickenlooper Lobbies for 'Casino Jack'
George Hickenlooper on his Jack Abramoff film

Marjorie Baumgarten, Jan. 5, 2011

More George Hickenlooper
Mourning Hickenlooper and Blount
Mourning Hickenlooper and Blount
Two friends of AFF die suddenly

Kimberley Jones, Oct. 31, 2010

More George Hickenlooper Films
Factory Girl
Sienna Miller nails Edie Sedgwick's gamine naivete in this biopic, but the film feels far too pat for its own good.

Marc Savlov, Feb. 23, 2007

Mayor of the Sunset Strip
Profile of L.A. radio deejay Rodney Bingenheimer, perpetual handmaiden to rock & roll royalty.

Marc Savlov, April 30, 2004

More by Kimberley Jones
Cranky loner (and beloved character actor) faces mortality

Oct. 13, 2017

Future Imperfect: Our Favorite Dystopian Films
Our Favorite Dystopian Films
VOTE: Deadly roller derby, sad clones, and a Road Warrior duke it out

Sept. 28, 2017


Casino Jack, George Hickenlooper, Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle Lefevre, Spencer Garrett, Maury Chaykin

AC Daily, Events and Promotions, Luvdoc Answers

Breaking news, recommended events, and more

Official Chronicle events, promotions, and giveaways

Updates for SXSW 2017

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)