Casino Jack and the United States of Money
This Guy Makes Boss Tweed Look Like a Saint
Starring: Jack Abramoff, Tom DeLay
By Robert Patrick
In the beginning of writer-director Alex Gibney’s documentary, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money”, the question is posed whether the praised filmmaker should’ve made an action flick instead of a politically charged doc. After all, action films are generally regarded as blockbusters with rattling machinegun fire and exploding buildings. Who wants to see a documentary about a bunch of old codgers, wheeling around in a maniacal circle, while they snicker about how much money they are making. Astounding as it sounds, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” is a proprietor of quite a few action elements: there are freedom fighters wielding automatic rifles the size of starships; metal music punching away in the background of the film; and lots and lots of bad guys! Man, are there bad guys! And guess what? They’re politicians! There is no one more menacing, by default, than politicians – except for Nazis and storm troopers.
Gibney focuses on the swanky excesses of former Republican wunderkind Jack Abramoff, whose loaded bat was filled with the power of bribery and political corruption. Abramoff’s tenure as an uncouth lobbyist is filled with everything from Red paranoia to inspired racquet ball matches – and wait until you get to the part about how racist and temperamental the man is – this guy could surprise Edith Bunker. You don’t necessarily need to be tethered to CNN or Newsweek in order to appreciate the humor and disappointment in Gibney’s portrait of an impresario so large that, if you made a political cartoon out of him, it still wouldn’t do him justice.
How did Abramoff get so big? The man, as shown through footage of feverish political expositions and embroiled debates, knew how to flirt with cameras. Abramoff made simple charismatic gestures with his hands, like he was kneading dough, all while lulling his audience with empty promises and fluttering jokes. The lobbyist could’ve sold “cure all” medicines in the old west, with his forked tongue, if he so lived in the time. Yes, Abramoff and his cohorts used their disingenuous personas to thread ways of securing illegal campaign funding. The movie bobs and weaves, licking its thumb, then continuing to count the ways in which Abraham, and his friends such as Tom DeLay, bribed their way to the top of the political Everest.
The documentary flickers with enough kinetic editing that it holds true to the stylistic details popularized by Michael Moore’s accessible brand of filmmaking – take that as you will. Talking heads, foaming at the mouth for the chance to oil their tongue up and start piping away into microphones, are interrupted by film clips and rock anthems to support the movie’s mood. Metallica roars in the background, like a ravenous lion, as politically-minded authors jack-up their hubris with stories and quips about Abramoff’s eventful life. And then, once in awhile, an ominous score will creep into the documentary, for obligatory purposes, as the sparse plunking of piano keys waft through the air – not that scenes of sweatshops aren’t scary enough on their own.
One has to see Gibney’s film to understand just how reprehensible the fallen magnate was. And how about those racist e-mails between his friends where, for no apparent reason other than to amplify his already superior complex, he warns that an Indian tribe better “come up with the dough or be prepared for another trail of tears.”
And yes, even though the documentary pulls from tired source material, such as “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington”, to prove its point about how crestfallen democracy is in our current day in age, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” is mostly inspired about the way in which it introduces information. And if they ever release this soundtrack, they better not put that horrible cover of T. Rex’s “Children of the Revolution” on it.
Now playing at Landmark’s Hillcrest Cinemas.