Casino Jack
 
The advertising for this film is a bit misleading.  If you see Kevin Spacey sitting at a blackjack table playing against the house, you’re under the impression that this is a movie about a casino gambler.  It’s not.  It’s a biopic about Jack Abramoff, the high-flying Washington lobbyist whose name became the epithet for influence peddling gone awry.
Usually we see Spacey play roles with a cool demeanor, where his expressive visage conveys an enviable savior faire.  Surely the real Jack Abramoff would have had to be someone who exuded confidence, who radiated success, who attracted people to his smooth, cosmopolitan demeanor.  But Spacey plays this role with a pent-up vat of anger boiling inside him, ready to explode at the slightest insult, or even a perceived slight.  He was going to show them all:  his critics, his doubters, any who would casually dismiss him as just another lapel-smoother on the make.   
His beautiful wife, Pam (Kelly Preston) pretends she doesn’t know what’s happening, but she’s more than eager to enjoy the trappings of her suddenly-successful husband’s economic prosperity.  He did, in fact, develop access to powerful people in Washington , including Tom DeLay, then-Speaker of the House (since indicted and convicted for illegally channeling campaign funds).  Abramoff was not afraid to peddle that influence to assure people that he could get “their” legislation passed, “their” issue heard, and he was happy to accept hefty “consulting” fees, much of which he would then kick back to the congressmen (and these were all men)----welcome cash in plain envelopes, slipped quietly into the inside jacket pocket.
It’s not exactly a documentary, but neither is it a loose novella “based” on facts---these escapades are presented as the facts.  In this version, Abramoff’s main vice was deluding himself into thinking he was a philanthropist---he would contribute exaggerated sums to certain (Jewish) charities, considering himself an altruist, but defining his self-importance by the level of his grandiosity.  But his main accomplice, Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) was not nearly so self-aggrandizing.  He was caught up in the usual greed:  expensive vacations, willing beautiful girlfriends (though he was married), plush surroundings-----but it was one of the jilted, indignant girlfriends who blew the whistle on him---called the FBI and became an informant.  And the whole house of cards came tumbling down.
Abramoff, of course, insists to the end that he was merely doing what everybody else was, he was just doing it better (the classic Bill Gates Microsoft monopoly defense).  He tried to distance himself from the layers of people he thought he put between himself and an opponent that he wanted “neutralized.”  But in the end, he was just another thug who got caught, leaving plenty of angry and embarrassed and cuckolded people in his wake.  “Casino Jack,” indeed.  Playing against the house with the house’s own money, and taking everyone else for fools.
 
Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, Pastor, Grace Presbyterian Church, Greenville , Texas