Saturday, March 26, 2011

Casino Jack (Rhoades)

“Casino Jack”
Highlights a High-Roller

Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Actor Kevin Spacey’s production company is called Trigger Street after a street near where he grew up that was named for Roy Rogers’ horse. As it happens, the legendary King of the Cowboys was young Kevin’s neighbor.

Spacey’s producing partner Dana Brunetti told me this Trigger story a couple of years ago when he was talking to me about new projects.

One of Trigger Street’s latest projects is “Casino Jack,” a biographical dramedy about Jack Abramoff, the notorious Washington lobbyist who in 2006 was convicted of fraud, tax evasion, and trading expensive gifts for political favors.

Abramoff took down with him a congressman, two White House officials, and nine other lobbyists. He served three and a half years in a federal prison.

Kevin Spacey stars as the titular Casino Jack. Spacey has demonstrated a wide range as an actor – from crooks (“The Usual Suspects”) to crooners “Beyond the Sea”), from killers (“Se7en”) to midlife meltdowns (“American Beauty”). Here, he plays a con man. His closest other portrayal might be the fast-talking salesman in “The Big Kahuna” or the larcenous office manager in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Abramoff was a wheeler-dealer. Having been hired by eLottery to block the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act and by the Choctaw tribes to defeat a Congressional bill on taxing Indian casinos, it’s little surprise that Abramoff picked up the nickname of Casino Jack.

In addition to Kevin Spacey’s film, the scandal also spawned a 2010 documentary by Alex Gibney, the similarly titled “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.”

Gibney said of Jack Abramoff: “One of his great gifts was being able to tell people what they wanted to hear, and this was how he was able to sell things and get them into trouble.”

The Trigger Street production of “Casino Jack” came together when Dana Brunetti saw a Facebook post by director George Hickenlooper (“Factory Girl”) suggesting that Kevin Spacey would be the right actor to play the disgraced lobbyist.

“So I friended George,” says Brunetti. “And he friended me back, and we started talking back and forth.” They looped in Kevin Spacey, and Hickenlooper eventually flew to London to meet him. He got the assignment.

Note: Sadly, this was Hickenlooper’s last film. The director died of an accidental overdose of painkillers a few weeks before the release of “Casino Jack.”

Kevin Spacey and Dana like to tell people about their Facebook introduction to George Hickenlooper while shyly admitting that, oh yes, they helped produce “The Social Network,” the Oscar-nominated film about the founding of Facebook.

“The irony of that is not lost on me,” says Spacey.
[from Solares Hill]


Bill Iddings said...

‘Casino Jack’ -- Sympathy for the Devil
In the flawed but (thanks to Jon Lovitz) sometimes funny “Casino Jack,” the late director George Hickenlooper wields actor Kevin Spacey’s charm and gift for mimicry to create sympathy for the devil.
Beware: The con is on.
The demon in the bio-comedy screening in Muskegon at the Harbor Theater is Jack Abramoff, the convicted Washington lobbyist and businessman imprisoned for ripping off clients for ten of millions of dollars.
Holding particular interest in West Michigan, where a Native American tribe is seeking to establish a gambling casino, is that those were Abramoff’s primary victims. He was released this past December, the same month “Casino Jack” came out and two months after Hickenlooper died.
Hickenlooper and his screenwriter, Norman Snider, fictionalize Abramoff as a deeply religious family man who went wrong in the name of doing right. For a sterner view, see the 2010 documentary “Casino Jack and the United States of Money.”
What’s just as interesting is the movie’s score being attributed to composer Jonathan Goldsmith who is not THAT Jonathan Goldsmith.
The one most people would recognize on sight is a white-bearded actor who plays The Most Interesting Man in the World in commercials for Dos Equis beer. The guy who’s given “Casino Jack” a peppy score that sounds like the one Burt Bacharach came up with for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” is someone else.
“Casino Jack” bets on the same taste for the true that drew people into “Charlie Wilson’s War,” the 2007 comedy in which Tom Hanks played the real-life congressman who finagled to shovel American money to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. Dramatizations of true stories are all the rage. Four of them -- “The Social Network,” “The King’s Speech,” “127 Hours” and “The Fighter” are up for Academy Awards.
Like “Charlie Wilson’s War,” “Casino Jack” places its chips on the corridors of political power where compromise and corruption conspire to play both ends against the middle.
Spacey embodies Abramoff much the same way he channeled Bobby Darin in 2004’s “Beyond the Sea.” Living in luxury on others’ dimes, Abramoff comes off as an Orthodox Jew who keeps kosher and, because he loves his wife and children, shuns the rampant adultery that gravitates to greed. Severely taken with himself, Abramoff repeatedly reminds everyone that he works out everyday.
According to “Casino Jack,” Abramoff simply went awry while trying to raise money for a number of social projects, spreading himself thin with restaurant and movie projects, to the point of failing to pay his own mortgage. Try selling that to those he scammed.
For all its faults, “Casino Jack” has welcome comic relief in Lovitz, the “Saturday Night Live” alum playing a hedonist and one of Abramoff’s primary accomplices. Also putting in good work in a lost cause are Barry Pepper as a yuppy scum whose infidelity brings down Abramoff on the strength of a wrong pair of red panties, and Kelly Preston as Abramoff’s wife.
Abramoff’s penchant for quoting movies and a variety of American presidents would make a decent college drinking game, “Guess the Flick.” Some of the more recognizable lines that Abramoff pirates are Sylvester Stallone as “Rocky,” Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now,” Al Pacino in “ ... in Justice for All,” and Dolph Lundgren in “Red Scorpion.” The latter a 1989 action movie that Abramoff wrote and coproduced, hence the poster on his office wall.
Like all hustlers, Abramoff was a man in love with his own myth. “Casino Jack” doesn’t excuse his excesses; it just fudges them in the name of satire.
Though it doesn’t always work, at least “Casino Jack” reminds us that President Harry S. Truman was realistic about getting too close to anyone whose pitch sounds too good to be true.
“If you want a friend in Washington,” Abramoff quotes Truman, “get a dog.”

Online Blackjack said...

Casino jack is just like the Rhoades. Abramoff took down with him a congressman, two White House officials, and nine other lobbyists. He served three and a half years in a federal prison.