Thursday, December 23, 2010

The rise and fall of a super-lobbyist

If you've seen Casino Jack and the United States of Money, director Alex Gibney's detailed look at the rise and fall of super lobbyist Jack Abramoff, you probably have no compelling reason to follow up with the late George Hickenlooper's dramatized take on the same basic story. * Still, Hickenlooper, who died in Denver just prior to the start of the 33rd Starz Denver Film Festival, may have made his best non-documentary feature with Casino Jack, a boldly conceived look at the ways in which Abramoff and his cohorts played the legislative system to great monetary advantage. * As Abramoff, Kevin Spacey dominates the proceedings with slippery ease, sometimes breaking into pitch-perfect imitations of various movie stars. Hickenlooper treats Abramoff's mimicry as part of his charismatic arsenal, one weapon in his defense against scrutiny. * I won't recount the entire Ambramoff story here, but you'll get a reasonable gloss on it from Casino Jack. * Interesting work can be found around the movie's fringes from Barry Pepper, as the avidly amoral Michael Scanlon; Jon Lovitz, as Adam Kidan, a small-time businessman with mob connections, and the late Maury Chaykin as a gluttonous mobster, Jabba the racketeer. * A near-cartoonish buoyancy keeps the movie entertaining, but if you've seen the real Jack Abramoff, you may have difficulty accepting Spacey as a combination political operative, hustler and Orthodox Jew. I did. * But even if you don't totally buy Spacey as Abramoff, Casino Jack remains watchable, and stands as one of Hickenlooper's most engaging works. How sad that his journey ended so soon. He was 46.

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