Maybe it’s the allure of Jack Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey here) that has led to two films in a single year about the audacity of his corruption. Casino Jack and the United States of Money tells the actual story through those who lived it, Casino Jack presenting the fictionalized account with all of Hollywood’s grace.
Abramoff is a fascinating individual, not because of what he did, who he scammed, or how he did it, but his sheer gusto and willingness to continue for, “the greater good.” There’s no sense in his mind he’s done anything wrong, much like a compulsive hoarder, just replace mountains of garbage with cash.
The persona is alluring as entertainment, late director George Hickenlooper providing the film version with a light attitude and financial flair. Jack, plus his various lobbying partners, splurge on lavish homes, flaunt their wealth, and seem to take joy in their concoction of corruption. The style gives Casino Jack a larger than life vibe, or maybe a so-absurd-but-it’s-true facade.
Playing it for laughs sheds light on a situation many would find dull, the thread of money through political venues needing an entertaining spark to keep a mass audience involved. Kevin Spacey is part of it, along with a number of awkward impressions, and Jon Lovitz scores as sleazy Adam Kidan. What’s worse than a mattress salesman turned into one of Abramoff’s cronies? Not much.
There’s a theme of hypocrisy running under it all, politicians flagging the former high-powered lobbyist, the same one that funneled them millions in campaign funds. Casino Jack will also push some preachy family dialogue between virtual Abramoff and on-screen wife played by Kelly Preston. Her breakdown inside the home where she questions ethics and morals is canned to make a political statement, not to advance the narrative. Jack’s retort is one that’s spoken of prior, further draining the scene of its legitimacy.
No, Casino Jack isn’t gunning for pristine reality. This is a movie where Lovitz is nearly killed after being stabbed by a pen 20 or so times in a comedic scuffle. Still, the movie itself, the story its based on, and the eventuality of the events portrayed are enough to sour the political system as it is. Hammering that point doesn’t add anything, but thankfully, the rest of the movie is there to rise above that standard. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Movie]
Digital keeps Casino Jack appearing remarkably clear and crisp in close. The camera is routinely in play for intensity keeping a steady focus and richly textured display. Few close-ups don’t come to play, high-fidelity at a rarely seen peak with Fox’s AVC encode at work. Exteriors shine too, a few quick aerials of the gambling cruise line simply remarkable in their clarity. Arguably, they’re more impressive than the close-ups.
Most of the colors veer warmly, flesh tones especially taking on an overly orange-ish saturation that can’t be considered natural. Primaries liven things up to balance it out, golf courses springing to life with beautiful greens and pure sands. Skylines light up with proper stern blues. Inside the fleeting glimpses of the casinos, machines shoot lighting and saturation as if it’s a celebration of HD, and at times, it certainly is.
All of that color does cause some unwanted visual hiccups, especially some irritating chroma noise. Darker walls, readily apparent during an emotional scene in the third act, reveal their noisy origins right when the film doesn’t need it. Fox’s encode is more than adequate for the material, meaning blame falls back to the Red One. It’s far too rare to see such issues creep into a stable compression slate like this.
Black levels hold themselves to a higher standard at least, providing this one with a rich depth. They hold within the interior of dimmed clubs and casinos, keeping any noise at bay. While definition may slouch within medium shots, black levels, coupled with contrast, will keep these images alive. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Video]
Sonically, Casino Jack will keep to itself, reproducing a typical dialogue state without any interference. Impressively, fidelity plays on an equal level even as actual senate hearings and newscasts are pushed into the film, providing no interruption from the HD audio experience.
A spirited soundtrack will move into the stereos and even whip around a little bit. Aircraft make a few trips front to back to set a soundstage and spruce up otherwise static conversation. Plus, it doesn’t blowout the the balance either. Casinos add their own flare with pinging machines and bells. There’s fun to be had here even if it’s typical. [xrr rating=4/5 label=Audio]
Casino Jack’s thin slate of extras can probably be tied to the unexpected death of its director, but the disc still includes a photo diary kept by Hickenlooper during the shoot. An eight-minute gag reel is as advertised, while nine-minutes of deleted scenes fill in a few plot points. [xrr rating=2/5 label=Extras]