By William Wolf


Kevin Spacey gives a superb, flashy and ultimately memorable performance in “Casino Jack,” part of the 2010 Toronto International Film Festival. Spacey plays the real-life shifty, wheeler-dealer lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who was sent to prison in a morass of exposed corruption involving various Washington bigwigs.

Spacey delivers a many-faceted portrait mined from this screenplay by Norman Snider as directed by George Hickenlooper. His portrayal mixes Abramoff’s personal adherence to the Jewish religion in vivid contrast to his immoral behavior. He shows Abramoff’s colossal nerve, his skill in putting the screws on people to get want he wants, his manipulations involving Indian casinos, and his ability to use people whether in lobbying or personal relationships. Spacey moves through the film with whirlwind force, his wiles as an actor never more in evident.

There is one particular scene in which he tells off a Congressional Committee interrogating him that is especially powerful. There is a twist involved, but the scene allows Spacey as Abramoff to let go his frustrations in a torrent of defensive and offensive emotion. It is a high point of the film.

“Casino Jack” plays in some ways as a documentary. Real people are portrayed, such as Tom DeLay, and Barry Pepper has a meaty role as Abramoff’s colleague Michael Scanlon. The cast as a whole is a colorful one, including Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle LeFevre and Maury Chaykin..

Films that deal with real characters and widely publicized situations have a challenge. There is a need to adhere to truth and reality, and yet there is the requirement of presenting a story that is dramatically convincing. This film scores high on its attempt to do both. Above all, Spacey’s award-caliber performance provides the necessary fuel. The film also succeeds in portraying the corrupt lobbying that is part of every-day life in Washington. One gets the feeling that scandals and exposure may come and go, but the corrupt lobbying system will go on forever.


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