Casino Jack Is Pretty Much An All-Kevin Spacey Show
A lot of people enjoy Kevin Spacey’s work as Frank Underwood in the Netflix series House of Cards. He’s a smooth-talking traditional politician who uses his charm and charisma to back up his ruthlessness in the political arena to get what he wants. But did you know that before Spacey did all that and establish a new pop culture icon, he did it first as Washington D.C. lobbyist Jack Abramoff in the black comedy film Casino Jack? No? Keep reading this review for your enlightenment, then.
Casino Jack was a decently-reviewed, but underrated movie to come out of 2010, and it’s a shame that it doesn’t get the press it deserves. (Mostly because audiences don’t really care all that much for political drama films unless it involves a bigger number of people, but I digress.) Jack Abramoff was a Hollywood movie producer and a lobbyist for Congress at Washington D.C., who got busted for a huge corruption scandal involving casinos built on and run by Native American reserves. The movie, however, is less about casinos and really more about how Jack is an evil guy. It’s all a huge mess, and the film touches on it in a way that can be described as starkly funny. It is black comedy, after all.
Casino Jack pretty much tracks down what happened in that part of Jack Abramoff’s life, from the rise to its fall. It’s already readily apparent from the film’s trailer that it is a satirical look at Jack’s own life, and the scandal that befell him, even throwing in a self-aware wisecrack from Jack saying that his arrest felt like a movie. (I wonder how that movie would have been reviewed, though.) If that doesn’t tell you that Casino Jack is a film that’s treating the bad guy in a silly way (he is reprehensible, after all) then I don’t know what else to tell you.
Kevin Spacey leads the Casino Jack cast as Jack Abramoff, but the impeccable Jon Lovitz also has a turn as Adam Kidan, a prominent name also involved in the scandal. Otherwise, the cast is stocked full of mostly unknown character actors, possibly due to the film’s relatively modest $12.5 million budget. Spacey leads the film with a strong performance, as is the norm for a professional such as he, but I can’t always say the same for the rest of the cast, as well as how the movie is written. Some reviews point out how uneven the film’s treatment is, and there’s a point in those arguments.
Casino Jack is pretty much written as a black comedy film, but it seems like even though the movie is definitely amazing in its honesty and its sincerity (the best comedies are true to life, after all) it doesn’t seem like it made the most it can make out of an interesting and compelling real life story.
Money and the rights and welfare of Native Americans are no joke, and while the only way to laugh at all the terrible stuff going on is to point to it and laugh at it in a sober way, a general treatment would cause them to be reduced to a mere punchline for a film that wants to showcase the scandal itself, and not its after-effects.
There were too many moments in Casino Jack where some film threads are spun and built up but quickly dropped in favor of something else. That’s the way real life adaptations work, though; sometimes there are just too many things happening in reality, and it doesn’t always make sense. What does? Maybe if it were released closer to this age, where biopics take themselves too seriously and offer biting insight into what makes people tick, Casino Jack would have been repurposed as a slightly more serious and grounded film.
Casino Jack could still be a black comedy, but it might have done less with its overwrought theatrics and a little more introspection. Who knows, though? Maybe it might have been more interesting to watch Kevin Spacey take the role of Jack Abramoff on again after doing a few seasons of House of Cards, to bring in a touch of gravitas while still being able to be overdramatic. If there’s anything that could save Casino Jack from its middling reviews, though, it really is his dedication to the role; it’s his overflowing charisma that pretty much saves House of Cards from its own flaws, so there’s really something to be said about what he does on screen.
So should you go watch Casino Jack? If you’re looking for a film about casinos, poker, and actual gambling, then this isn’t really it. If you’re in the mood for a film that tackles politics and scandal (like there aren’t a lot of those), and you’re a huge fan of Kevin Spacey and/or House of Cards, then why not? Take this on, and don’t mind the reviews. People will always be split on what they want to see, anyway. Spacey’s acting alone is usually worth the price of admission by itself, so there’s something to look forward to.
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