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Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Dir: Alex Gibney

Rating: 3.0/5.0

Magnolia Pictures

122 Minutes

Some people like to refer to lobbyist extraordinaire/convicted felon/all-around douche bag Jack Abramoff as “Abraham Jackoff.” I learned this from Al Franken and his book Lies (And the Lying Liars Who Tell Them) A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right. I also learned about Abramoff’s involvement with fallen senator Tom DeLay, his connection with the “free trade” indentured servitude that occurred on Saipan, his contribution in ripping off Native American tribes and his penchant for writing profanity-laden emails that more or less end up implicating him and all his cronies in all his wrong-doing.

Luckily, for people who don’t stay current or like to read director Alex Gibney made the film Casino Jack and the United States of Money.

While the conspiratorial documentary may be a tad less de rigueur since Michael Moore and his knock-offs pounded the genre into the dust over the last 10 years, Casino Jack, much like Gibney’s other work in Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, doesn’t raise ire by grandstanding, moralizing or flag-waving. Instead, he creates a pretty straight-forward doc, filmed in a light, wry vein and then steps out of the way to allow the facts to enrage us without doing too much rah-rah work on the side. But make no mistake, Gibney is not out to make an objective film about Abramoff. He’s just simply not interested in getting all up in your grill, Moore-style. But unless you have the inference of a sloth, it’s plain to see that Gibney is not thrilled with the fuckery Abramoff and pals got up to over the years.

Casino Jack not only focuses on Abramoff, but his generation of similar hobgoblins like Grover Nordquist and Ralph Reed. Abramoff cut his teeth as the leader of the College Republicans in the ’80s, a role that helped him pal around with influential members of the GOP. These friendships, especially with DeLay, allowed Abramoff to grab sacks of cash from people who needed an audience with the movers and shakers on the Beltway. And Abramoff was just the man to make that happen. For a fee.

But rather than mire the viewer in only politics, Gibney gives us a view of Abramoff’s early life: the distillation of conservative values in Orthodox Judaism, his early support for Angolan freedom fighter (and eventual mass murderer) Jonas Savimbi and even the jingoistic Dolph Lundgren film Red Scorpion, which Abramoff financed. Gibney sifts through this early material, looking for a clue as to from where this monster sprung.

As Gibney mounts more and more evidence of Abramoff’s hubris, we learn that the man had no qualms about who he fucked over for money, but he loved to fuck over those damned Injuns the best. It’s like something out of the past, a damning indictment of the “white man’s” place in American history. It is sad and it is shocking that someone still uses the unfortunate situation of the Native Americans to get rich. Notice I didn’t say it was surprising.

If there is a flaw to Casino Jack, it’s the film’s two hour running time and Gibney’s insistence not to get pissed off. The pace is laid back and sometimes there are too many people, places, names and facts that Gibney could have excised to better hone his focus a little. It is obvious that Abramoff and his cronies committed some odious acts. A little more focus could have done the film good. But of course nothing speaks better than the closing image of Tom DeLay strutting his stuff on “Dancing With the Stars.” Of course, no told me I was watching a horror movie.

by David Harris
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