Hot Docs: Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Hot Docs: Casino Jack and the United States of Money

Jack Abramoff made headlines when he was charged and convicted of the misuse of millions of dollars through fraud and “attempted” bribery of government officials. Casino Jack and the United States of Money shows how he attained the level of access and trust that allowed him the opportunity to commit his crimes. The film is […]

Jack Abramoff made headlines when he was charged and convicted of the misuse of millions of dollars through fraud and “attempted” bribery of government officials. Casino Jack and the United States of Money shows how he attained the level of access and trust that allowed him the opportunity to commit his crimes.

The film is a fascinating study in the disruptive power of money and how it so effortlessly undermines the American democratic process. By plucking out the scandalous events surrounding Abramoff, including million-dollar swindle schemes, mob-style murder, and trips to the Marianas Islands to interfere with international labour laws, this spy-like drama is almost too bizarre to be believed.

Director Alex Gibney adopts a Michael Moore-style of documentary storytelling, employing a popular soundtrack that includes Metallica; clips from movies such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, The Manchurian Candidate and Patton; humorous animations and graphics; and an omnipotent narrator to string together the various interviews with “real” people (a patsy of Abramoff’s chosen to head AIC contends he was “really weirded out” by the large sums of money being moved around in his name). In addition, he uses clever intertitles to link events. However, his approach appears less manipulative as he is more simply recounting Abramoff’s history rather than creating an argument against him.

Having only skimmed the cliff notes of the scandal, this film was a well of information. To see Abramoff’s slow but purposeful rise to power is fascinating, as was his ability to convince anyone of anything; as one man says, “He could charm a dog off a meat truck.” In the end, it appears to be a simple combination of charm, greed and intellect that propelled him through life and eventually into a prison cell. Nonetheless, the missing voices of key players is felt significantly; namely Abramoff, his partner Michael Scanlon and Republican Senator Tom Delay (most recently seen on Dancing with the Stars). Conversely, it appears almost everyone else is interviewed, providing their piece of the puzzle.

The only notable failure occurs at the very end of the film when the filmmaker links Abramoff’s deeds, and those of people like him, to the recession. While the point that lobbyists and campaign contributions have significant influence on policy makers, including the market deregulation that led to the economic collapse, the message felt out of place.