Casino Jack and the United States of Money
Directed by Alex Gibney
Ending as it does with the former House Majority Leader on Dancing with the Stars, the story of jailed lobbyist Jack Abramoff is already a tragedy of farcical proportions, so it's perhaps overkill for a documentary on the subject to express outrage with clips from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, or punch up scoops with ironic song cues. Still, Alex Gibney's report is instructive.
Abramoff's high-Bush-years fall is recalled: the scandalously overcharged Indian casino clients (one displays a $3 million invoice for "professional services"), the favors arranged for GOP reps like Tom DeLay (still villainously smug in his interview). It's mostly hard to tell the legal from the il-, given Abramoff's job brokering connections between interest money and political contacts. In the film's best archival dredge, Abramoff, repping Saipan sweatshop owners, organizes "fact-finding" trips for Hawaiian-shirted congressional free-marketeers, who then quash labor reform.
Though all political power is portrayed as dependent on laundered lobbying largesse, pay-for-play government is specifically linked to market fundamentalism: Gibney begins with young Jack's rise through the College Republicans, alongside fellow Reagan Revolutionaries like grass-roots social conservative Ralph Reed and libertarian think-tanker Grover Norquist. Thomas Frank, a talking head here, made a similar point in The Wrecking Crew; it's validated by a buzzer-beating mention of the Citizens United decision.
Some will find all this less revelation than recap. But its wider reach is a point in the poli-doc's favor, even as the glossing of dense material, and Michael Moore-lite popcult gotchas, are points against the approach's necessary compromises. Anyway, it likely beats a biopic (Kevin Spacey as Abramoff, coming in October).
Opens May 7