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If you’re looking for more penetrating socio-political context or exhaustive reportage, then you might want to check out Alex Gibney‘s recent documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money.
George Hickenlooper‘s energetic feature is perfectly content to focus its allotted time on the man of the hour, whose delusions of increasing grandeur precipitated one of the bigger scandals of the Bush administration.
Spacey’s fully-inhabited performance, as well as bright supporting turns from Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston and an amusingly gaudy Jon Lovitz makes for crowd-pleasing festival fare.
The Canadian production was picked up just ahead of its Toronto world premiere by ATO Pictures, which is wisely looking to get it into theaters ahead of the November midterm elections.
It’s clear right from the first scene, in which Spacey delivers his opening lines to his reflection in a restroom mirror, that Hickenlooper and screenwriter Norman Snider have every intention of weaving a healthy satirical element into the fact-based storytelling.
Not content to be a dependable K Street bagman and Tom DeLay’s best pal, Abramoff and his right-hand man, Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), set their sights on a gambling empire, partnering with Indian tribes and criminally over-billing them for lobbying services rendered.
The ensuing scandal reaches a point of no return after Jack joins forces with Adam Kidan (Lovitz), a local TV mattress king who enlists the aid of the mob (as personified by the quietly imposing, late Canadian character actor Maury Chaykin in his final role) to put a hit out on a Greek casino cruise line owner.
Hickenlooper chooses to give Spacey and company ample breathing room rather than putting a more personal, stylistic or ideological imprint on the production, like, say, an Oliver Stone or a Michael Mann.
But that doesn’t mean the resulting breezier tone doesn’t skimp on the intriguing historical details, like the fact that the movie-quoting Abramoff produced not one but two Dolph Lundgren movies.
Production values are likewise crisp, with Toronto convincingly standing in for Washington as well as several other American and foreign cities.
Alas, the same can’t be said for some of the telltale Canadian accents coming out of the mouths of those U.S. politicians.
Venue: Toronto International Film Festival (ATO Pictures)
Production companies: Rollercoaster Entertainment, Olive Branch Prods., Vortex Words Pictures
Cast: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz
Director: George Hickenlooper
Screenwriter: Norman Snider
Executive producers: Richard Rionda del Castro, Lewin Webb, Donald Zuckerman, Dana Brunetti, Patricia Eberle, Warren Nimchuk, Angelo Paletta, Domenic Serafino
Producers: Gary Howsam, Bill Marks, George Zakk
Director of photography: Adam Swica
Production designer: Matthew Davies
Music: Jonathan Goldsmith
Editor: William Steinkamp
No rating, 108 minutes
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