Two-time Academy Award® Winner Kevin Spacey delivers a “bravura performance” (The New Yorker) in this “uproarious, riveting and wickedly hilarious” (Elle) film inspired by a true story. Spacey stars as Jack Abramoff, the real-life Washington power player who resorted to jaw-dropping levels of fraud and corruption. High-rolling excess and outrageous escapades are all in a day’s work for Abramoff, as he goes to outrageous lengths to promote the Indian gambling industry, earning him the nickname “Casino Jack.” But when Jack and his womanizing protégé Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) enlist a dimwitted business partner (Jon Lovitz) for an illegal scheme, they find themselves ensnared in a web of greed and murder that explodes into a worldwide scandal.
Kevin Spacey is undeniably one of America's most charismatic and talented actors. He's got two Academy Awards to prove it, but ever since he (misguidedly) took on the role of his idol, the late singer Bobby Darin, in the vanity biopic 'Beyond the Sea,' he's kind of bugged me. As time goes on, I get the ever stronger impression Spacey's ego has ballooned out of control and his performances in the last several years exude an annoying show-offy quality that makes them artificial. Maybe it's because he tends to portray larger-than-life characters or maybe it's because he really hasn't had a decent part in several years, and when he gets a juicy one, like the real-life lobbyist Jack Abramoff, whose wheeler-dealer tactics and cocky attitude ultimately embroil him in a heap of trouble, he feels like he better tear it to shreds for fear another one won't come his way.
Spacey is certainly entertaining to watch in George Hickenlooper's 'Casino Jack,' but the performance is too broad and blustery for my taste. Instead of believing Spacey and allowing his intensity and magnetism to draw me into the story, I found myself strangely detached, examining the mechanics of his work from a clinical standpoint. And as a result, despite many positive elements, the film left me cold.
The trailer for 'Casino Jack' emphasizes the story's comic elements - the colorful, eccentric characters, ceaseless schmoozing, bumbling antics, and how a slick enterprise spirals out of control - but Hickenlooper's film is actually pretty serious, telling Abramoff's story in a straightforward manner that showcases his flamboyant personality and devious antics without really lampooning them. There's no doubt Abramoff surrounded himself with a bunch of interesting characters, and some of them are quite notorious - figures such as Congressman Tom DeLay and Christian zealot Ralph Reed - and the film seems to relish its Washington insider status. And Abramoff himself, with his penchant for quoting 'The Godfather' and pumping himself up with motivational monologues, is certainly a colorful guy, and watching him climb the ladder while digging his own grave only cements our cynical view of American government and the rampant corruption that fuels it.
Abramoff's odyssey begins with his support of Indian gaming, and his talent for promoting his cause leads him to the White House and then to jail after an illegal scheme goes horribly awry. Barry Pepper and Jon Lovitz play his cohorts and Kelly Preston turns in the film's most understated and effective performance as Jack's long-suffering wife. Yet despite all the energy of the actors and the wild and crazy antics on display, the movie never really catches fire. Maybe it's because the tone is ambiguous, or maybe it's because it's just too difficult to tell a story like this when the real-life players are so recognizable. (Interestingly, an Abramoff documentary, 'Casino Jack and the United States of Money,' was also released in 2010. I'd be intrigued to see the portrait it paints of Abramoff and how it tells his story.)
'Casino Jack' is an entertaining enough ride, but it just doesn't get far enough under Jack's skin to carry much weight. And maybe if it did, Spacey's performance would have more bite and resonance, and Abramoff and his cronies would come off as more than cardboard, cartoon characters.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Casino Jack' comes packaged in a standard Blu-ray case. The 25-GB single-layer disc has a video codec of 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC and a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 audio track. Upon insertion of the disc, trailers for 'Street Kings 2: Motor City,' 'Mao's Last Dancer,' 'Cedar Rapids,' and 'Black Swan' play automatically before the full-motion menu with music pops up.
'Casino Jack' sports a video transfer that's almost as sharp, colorful, and vibrant as the character upon which the film is based. The 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC effort excels with exceptional contrast and clarity that occasionally provide a striking dimensional look. Close-ups are especially crisp and detailed, highlighting every crease, crinkle, and pore in Spacey's face. Bold hues enliven the image, with reds exuding marvelous pop and saturation, and fleshtones remain true and stable throughout. Black levels are solid and inky, while bright whites resist blooming. Grain is kept to a minimum, so the picture possesses a sleek look that matches the spotless source material.
Digital issues, such as banding, noise, and shimmering, are absent, and no edge enhancement or smoothing have been applied. This is a first-rate transfer from Fox that really ramps up one's involvement in the movie.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track can't match the video, but remains a solid effort overall. A movie such as 'Casino Jack' doesn't offer a lot of opportunities for sonic heft, but the audio possesses good fidelity and dynamic range, and ramps up the intensity when it needs to. The track is free of any surface defects, and only a couple of instances of mild distortion hamper the listening experience. Dialogue is the big star, and always comes across without any hiccups. A few instances of rear bleed widen the sound field and lend appropriate ambience to exterior scenes, but this is mainly a front-based affair with some nice stereo separation. Bass frequencies are mild at best, and the bouncy music score is crisply rendered. All in all, this is a fine track that complements the material well.
Just a handful of extras round out the disc. There's nothing terribly substantive here, but the content is worth a cursory glance, if you so desire.
'Casino Jack' tells the frenetic tale of lobbyist Jack Abramoff a little more soberly than the trailer promises, but it's still an interesting tale of power and ego on steroids. Kevin Spacey goes a bit overboard in his portrayal and the film runs a tad long, yet politicos and Washington junkies will surely get a kick out of the wheelings and dealings depicted and the impersonations of many famous figures. The disc features top-notch video, high-quality audio, and thin supplements, and is surely worth a rental.