Sunday, May 9, 2010

Movie with Abe: Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Directed by Alex Gibney
Released May 7, 2010

Political documentaries are often the most interesting kind of nonfiction films. There are so many motivations behind why politicians do what they do, and there often even exist multiple reasons behind any one act or decision. The life and resume of one Jack Abramoff, a former lobbyist with extensive connections in Washington, is certainly an interesting standpoint from which to launch an investigation into the workings of politics and the potential misdeeds of a disturbingly large number of congressmen and senators.

While the title is certainly incendiary and catching, it seems a bit like picking just one arbitrary name out of a hat. Abramoff’s many wheelings and dealings are not limited to the isolated incident of the purchase of a casino cruise ship. As a referent to the infinite number of favors and financial transactions supervised, coordinated, and received by Abramoff, however, the United States of Money seems an extremely accurate term, with Abramoff serving as the card shark.

The film certainly digs deep into Abramoff’s history and surveys the whole chronology, bringing many players in, out, and back in along the way. There are an extraordinary number of chapter markers present to break up the film, some two minutes apart, and some twenty. It takes a long, detailed route to figure out just how Abramoff landed himself in jail, and the narrative seems to lose some of the threads along the way, eventually picking them up but not explaining their absence during the time in between. A thorough Internet investigation to mete out and clarify just who is who seems necessary at film’s end, which would seem to suggest that the film doesn’t quite do its job of presenting a clear portrait of the history. It’s still a fascinating discourse, and incredibly eye-opening for all the information it presents.

For a film about politics, “Casino Jack and the United States of Money” does an impressive job of checking its biases at the door. It doesn’t presuppose or slant facts about Republicans versus Democrats or the other way around, and doesn’t excuse anyone’s bad behavior. Director Alex Gibney, who won an Oscar for the brutal and disturbing “Taxi to the Dark Side,” has crafted another startling expose with a starkly lighter tone. The narration sounds a bit like a less obnoxious version of Michael Moore, hitting just as hard but in a less brash manner. Inspiring additional research shouldn’t be seen as a negative attribute, and this film kicks it off by providing an extensive amount of revealing information.


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