Thursday, 22 March 2012
Casino Jack and the United States of Money
By Alan Bacchus
I’m only a casual follower of American politics and know very little of the complex system of the lobbying wherein third party organizations hire non-governmental third party firms to pressure members of Congress into voting and passing Bills, thus affecting the policies of the nation. Casino Jack attempts to make sense of this system so reliant on money and thus susceptible to corruption by telling the story of Jack Abramoff, the king of the lobbyists, who was famously indicted and served time for fraud.
It’s no surprise this is a Republican story. When it comes to political controversy, for Democrats it always seems to be sex scandals and for Republicans it’s always about money. As the most aggressively free market country in the world, success in business seems to go to those who can push the moral and ethical edge to the max in order to squeeze as much money out of the system.
Jack Abramoff squeezed a lot, and it’s a head-spinning first hour of information thrown at us. Like All the President’s Men or even that lengthy speech by Donald Sutherland in the middle of Oliver Stone’s JFK, Alex Gibney bombards us with names of lobbyists, politicians, dollar figures and organization names that Abramoff used to move money from place to place in exchange for political favours.
The title refers to Abramoff’s association with Native American Casinos, which he exploited in order to cheat and swindle millions of dollars out of the entitlement of these native reserves. Abramoff seemed to scour the world for loopholes to exploit, including supporting sweatshop manufacturing operations in the unregulated US commonwealth nation of Saipan.
Casino Jack produces the same effect as watching Charles Ferguson’s Inside Job or even Gibney’s Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, as they all simplify the complexities of white collar crimes. Casino Jack arrives on DVD at the same time as the release of the dramatic version of this story, starring Kevin Spacey and directed by former documentarian George Hickenlooper (who sadly died last year). There’s enough special features to add even more context and information, as if we didn’t get enough in the actual film. Unfortunately, we’re also given a rather large pitch for ‘Take Part’, an advocate group against these heinous lobbying practices. It’s an important cause, but ironically we feel as if we’re being lobbied to ourselves by watching this DVD.
This review first appeared on Exclaim.ca