Very few actors can capture compelling, conniving characters effectively. Yet Kevin Spacey succeeds once more in a memorable performance as Jack Abramoff in “Casino Jack.” Like Humphrey Bogart, Alec Guiness, Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Jack Nicholson and Robert De Niro before him, Spacey has seamlessly transitioned from celebrated character actor to Academy Award–winning superstar.
“Casino Jack” was inspired by true events as lobbyist Abramoff and his business partner Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) sprouted as worldwide-headline sensations after a disastrous scandal spun out of control and exposed the illegal activities that transpired in Washington. Before Abramoff and Scanlon, the word “lobbyist” was mostly unknown to the outside world, but since the duo’s downfall, the epithet has evolved into a despicable term.
We all yearn for wealth, but few actually achieve affluence or assets. This desire blurs the lines between good and greed. Abramoff faces this prodigious problem in “Casino Jack.” Abramoff, a contradicting, complex and conservative lobbyist, looms as a larger-than-life personality and a Washington wheeler-dealer. His ambitions grow outrageously fueled by greed, deceit, sex and complete corruption.
Desiring an empire of wealth, Abramoff and Scanlon charge premium consultant fees to “influence” their causes in Washington. An opportunity crosses Abramoff’s path to find investors for a successful floating casino chain that is being sold at a reduced rate. Craving this opportunity, the crooked twosome manipulate Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) to become the front man for their operations. All goes awry because of Kidan’s mob connections and hellfire explodes on everyone involved.
The film showcases the secretive powerful politicos who influence our nation’s capital. Absurd and annoying individuals like Abramoff profit, prosper, and succeed to link lobbyists and politicians together. Only Kevin Spacey could personify him as a likable and worthwhile character. Spacey has defined his career on impersonating antiheroes and has again authenticated himself as a talented, astonishing actor.
Spacey dominates, but is supported by admirable actors Pepper and Lovitz. Pepper, an underrated actor, always proves amazing, but never receives rightful recognition. Pepper enjoys portraying Scanlon as slick, sleazy, and sophisticated, and audience members will enjoy every moment of it.
Besides Spacey and Pepper, the diamond in the rough turns out to be comedic actor Jon Lovitz, who steals all his scenes. Reminiscent of his dramatic role in “Happiness,” Lovitz confirms that drama exists in his repertoire and knows how to wield his craft. Lovitz should be given more opportunities to explore his screen potential.
In one of his final roles, famed character actor Maury Chaykin dazzles as Big Tony, the mob boss who is approached by Kidan. Chaykin, acclaimed for portraying angry and absurd characters, delivers another acting gem that is effectively executed. Chaykin will be truly missed for his tenacious yet titillating performances.
Director George Hickenlooper helmed an outstanding movie and sadly recently passed away. Not a bad film to conclude one’s career.
“Casino Jack” was well-written by former journalist Norman Snider, who saturated the film with an abundance of insider journalism jokes. As the film points out, the public remains clueless about what’s going on in government.
Although entertaining, the film has problems staying focused and consistent with no adept balance between humor and drama. Kelly Preston as Pam Abramoff appears as an unnecessary and out-of-place character. She provided compassion and showed the softer side of Abramoff, but Spacey saves the film single-handedly and makes the movie worthwhile to watch. It’s definitely worth seeing, but not mind blowing. It’s another solid film starring Kevin Spacey, and the viewer should not expect anything more.