Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010)
Alex Gibney is a masterful documentary filmmaker, having crafted Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side. His latest doc chronicling the rise and fall of corrupt lobbyist Jack Abramoff is insightful, clear-eyed, and entertaining like his other work, but something’s missing here and it’s hard to put my finger on it. Gibney’s doc lacks the fire and outrage of his previous exposes, so Casino Jack doesn’t hold your attention as strong. It focuses closely on Abramoff’s scandals and his influence peddling and gives shrift coverage to bigger issues about our government being for sale to the highest bidder. The lack of attention to a bigger picture hurts the movie’s power. But ultimately I think what makes Casino Jack lacking is that it is missing one very key participant — Abramoff. Gibney interviewed the man several times in prison but Abramoff declined to be involved after pressure from federal prosecutors. By all accounts, Abramoff is a charismatic, larger-than-life figure, whose Reagan era College Republican idealism transforms into greed and out-of-control hubris (Abramoff foolishly wrote every single thought down in e-mail). His absence is noticeable and blunts the storytelling angles the film can take. With Abramoff’s side, there could be much more insight and dirt. Casino Jack is a solid viewing but not up to snuff for Gibney. Wait for the Kevin Spacey film later this year.
Nate’s Grade: B