Film review: Casino Jack

Disclaimer: Another review that was unable to be published until the film’s release date.

Casino Jack
Rollercoaster Entertainment, An Olive Branch Productions, Vortex Words Pictures

STARRING Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz
WRITTEN BY Norman Snider
PRODUCED BY George Vietzakis
DIRECTED BY George Hickenklooper

SHOT BY Adam Swica
EDITED BY William Steinkamp
MUSIC BY Jonathan Goldsmith
DISTRIBUTED BY Art Takes Over/Samuel Goldwyn Films

Screened 2010-12-15

OK. Jack Abramoff. You read the papers, right? You watch the news? Very selfish superlobbyist who defrauded some Native American tribes of tens of millions of dollars in in the early Aughts. “These mofos are the stupidest idiots in the land for sure,” Abramoff is cited as saying. Hilarious, right? Casino Jack details this adventure from Abramoff’s perspective and plays like a gay frolick, one which is mildly evil. The intention is to be so cynical as to shock the viewer into sanity, but unfortunately the attention is pointed squarely back at the filmmaker.

I find myself not wanting to give this film anymore attention… lord knows it’s loud enough to garner its own. It’s allegedly newsworthty that director Hickenlooper died shortly before the film’s premiere and that Abramoff was released from his 3.5 year sentence a few mere weeks ago. I met Hickenlooper in 2006 as he was promoting Factory Girl and left the interview unconvinced that Edie Sedgwick was in fact a figure of any tragic scope – anymore tragic than the rest of us, that is. Hickenlooper admitted that her problems were the proportion of “high school melodrama” yet insisted on telling her story. I am finally now beginning to understand what it all amounted to, and Hickenlooper’s unfortunate death – really not unlike Sedgwick’s (alcohol + painkiller + sleep) – can be viewed as evidence in this opinion’s favor. Why did he want to tell her story? He clearly was fascinated by Warhol and the surrounding artistic epoch. Did he find Sedgwick beautiful? Did he find the notion of being overwhelmed to be tragic? Being slighted? And, confounded, falling back into hedonism to escape? (prithees, prithees, forgive me). It’s just a theory. Hickenlooper seems to me to have been an insecure idealist. Thusly we have the garbled mess of Casino Jack, a film shaky in its craft and cynical to the point of lunacy. I see Hickenlooper standing in awe of the American way of life and the hypocrisy and evil that may or may not allow it to exist… and being driven to mad cackling by it all.

But there are plenty of legitimate reasons why this film fails, and they exist along every tier of production – well, the actors do their jobs well enough (Spacey admittedly owns). The score is sort of a parody of lounge music, runs throughout the entire film, and makes you want to kill yourself. Tonally it’s actually quite similar to the intended effect of the silly score in The Informant!, but Soderbergh is a considerably more capable and exprienced filmmaker – or perhaps just more intelligent than Hickenlooper was. That’s one. Editing: one would say there is no “flow” – many cuts feel uncertain, ending quicker than we expect. Let’s just say it’s a bumpy ride. The cinematography is often misguided or overly concerned with sophomoric visual games – a narrative so ambitious and playful requires a DP of extremely high proficiency: I assert that Lance Acord would’ve done outstanding work. And finally, the sciprt… banter-ridden, as self-satisfied as a Jason Reitman film (coming from me that’s a tremendous insult), and really teeming with incestuous film references, all American, well-known, and easy as hell. It’s just weak… weak to the point of the characters actively quoting Jerry Maguire to one another. But the responsibility all falls back on our muddled muerto maestro.
Original review finale:
There’s a line in the film which is repeated so many times you would think it’s the entire point – and it’s content could have held the key to preventing Hickenlooper’s death: Jack Abramoff works out every day.
Improved review finale:
Hickenlooper’s intent seems to have been to magnify a sickness of character, the acts of the misguided – knowing mistakes – and to perhaps extend that prognosis to the American macro. “How the hell did we get here? – – we work out every day!” Combined with the film’s gay tone, the effect is a sort of fever-chill swoon – or it would be, if the film achieved its desired impact. And perhaps our proximity to Abramoff, and the ripples he created, make us (or me) resent that swoon instead of marvel at its mechanism.

written by David Ashley