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Casino Jack (Blu-ray Review)

Casino Jack was a 2010 film that may have had a chance to bring some more good graces to the already very accomplished Kevin Spacey.  His portrayal of lobbyist Jack Abramoff was a very good turn that played well off of his talents as an actor.  The film ended up being largely dismissed; however, I still found it to be an entertaining comedic drama and biopic.  Revisiting the film, my opinions on it remain the same, but it is a film that is worth seeking out, now that it is on a very good looking Blu-ray.





Film: 

Jack Abramoff:  I’m Jack Abramoff and I work out every day.

Casino Jack is a fact-based biopic that deals with lobbyists, finance, and the shameless fleecing of the American taxpayer.  It is also quite funny, as leads Kevin Spacey and Barry Pepper essentially sleaze their way through this story as real life lobbyists and businessmen Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon.  The film hits a lot of the familiar beats of a biopic and may not be as intriguing as it could be to those more informed on the subject matter, but that does not stop this film from having an entertaining rhythm held throughout.  This is all mainly thanks to the film’s casting and director George Hickenlooper’s (sadly deceased) ability to put together an entertaining feature, while still injecting tons of information throughout.

In the film, Spacey’s Jack Abramoff character is a well-connected, Washington D.C. lobbyist looking to acquire all he can to become a big success and have lots of money.  Abramoff is an affectionate family man and has desires to provide for both his family and the community, as he states so often, but really, he is looking to make lots of money, and he also really enjoys having the attention.  With his business partner, Michael Scanlon, played by Barry Pepper, the two manage to engage in various acts of fraud and conspiracy involving Indian casinos, among other crimes, which leads to more success.

Abramoff also decides to use a buddy of his, sleazy salesman Adam Kidan, played by Jon Lovitz, to help head one of the illegal schemes he has setup involving cruise ship casinos.  Unfortunately, among other problems, Kidan’s mob connections eventually make for worse circumstances, as various scandals become more and more obvious to the rest of the world.  In addition to problems involving Kidan, elements, such as the basic cockiness of Scanlon, soon become destructive forces for Abramaoff’s ill gotten fortunes.

Jack Abrimoff:  Washington is like Hollywood, but with uglier faces.

The best things about this movie are the performances by Spacey and Pepper.  Spacey is in top form here, despite playing another real life character he shares little physical resemblance to (Spacey also portrayed Bobby Darin in Beyond the Sea and Ron Klain in Recount).  The work Spacey does as Abramoff is very good, managing to make a character, who we know is participating in various illegal deeds, incredibly watchable and at times very likable.  He has a way of addressing people, mixed with the overall convictions he tries to convey that works quite well for selling this role.  Pepper certainly has the showier role, with his Scanlon character acting out much more, flaunting his status and having a great ego about it.  These two work well together and with the other members of the cast separately.

The film’s supporting performances are good enough as well.  Lovitz manages to do an effective job in the sleazy role (not surprising), but also manages to make it effectively funny without coming off as too goofy (as far as a Jon Lovitz performance goes, anyway).  Kelly Preston also stars as Abramoff’s wife, Pam, always willing to stick by her husband, despite her concerns.  And Maury Chaykin (also recently passed away) has a role as one of Kidan’s mob associates.

While I did find this film to be enjoyable, I think its biggest problem is that it does not present itself as one with a broad appeal.  The narrative follows the path of a biopic very clearly, but the motivations and messages of the film are all very politics heavy, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but can certainly alienate viewers that cannot quite get around some of the more technically involved scenes concerning the exact dealings that Abramoff and co. are participating in.  I also believe that the movie does function well as a comedic drama, but in between the many moments of levity, the true nature of the crimes committed does not quite come across as effective as they could have.  The film does less to show me a dramatic punch than has me relying on my understanding of what is going on and why it is not right or why the schemes that occurred should be stopped.

Despite some of these gripes, however, the movie still works fine as an entertaining depiction of a corruption scandal from the recent past.  The performances are well thought out, essentially giving us the likable scoundrel film we desire.  This is a nice change in pace from seeing the more serious set of biopics that tend to come out around this time of the year.  The film works well as an interesting and consistently humorous portrait of an ambitious, but morally confounding man; and the best part is, as Spacey’s wonderful character explains near the end of the film, he does not even understand why it is that he is in the wrong.

Jack Abramoff:  Next to God, faith, and country, nothing is more important than influence.

Video:

For a politically focused biopic, which does not feature that much in the way of visual excitement, the film’s picture presentation on Blu-ray is very solid.  The 1080p transfer serves the film very well, as it is all in the details.  The colors pop, the facial textures all register well on screen, and all the black levels are sufficiently dark.  Despite the way this film delves into some darker areas involving Abramoff and co.’s dealings, the film has a warm color presentation, which is very well handled for this disc.

Audio:

Once again, for a film that really does not rely on elements such as explosions or gun shots, the disc still manages to provide a very solid audio mix.  Working with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track, the film is rich with dialogue that all comes across as clear throughout.  The score of the film has a certain light feel to it, which is handled appropriately for the mix.  I guess a key scene, as far as the audio mix goes, revolves around a conversation between Abramoff and Scanlon on an airport tarmac, and considering the whole thing is a mix of sound effects, score, and dialogue, it is a very clear sounding scene, which best reflects the audio quality of this disc as a whole.  English and Spanish subtitle tracks are also available.

Extras:

Unfortunately, this disc does almost nothing to offer much in the way of extra material.  It is a shame, because a decent look at Abramoff could have been handled in a brief documentary, but people will have to look for the well regarded documentary, Casino Jack and the United States of Money instead.  It also would have been nice to see a retrospective about director George Hickenlooper, who unfortunately passed away before the release of this film.  Still, there are a very scant set of features here:

Casino Jack:  A Director’s Photo Diary – This is a slideshow of photographs taken by Hickenlooper, with a brief text explanation for each one.  The photographs are presented in HD.

Gag Reel – Just as it sounds, as collection of goofs and slip-ups made by the cast.  Enjoyable enough, although it is presented in standard definition.

Deleted Scenes – About ten minutes of deleted material, which does not amount to much and was cut for obvious reasons.

Final Thoughts:

While not a great biopic, I think this is an enjoyable enough film.  Spacey is very good in the lead role, not to mention the work by the supporting cast, which is also quite solid.  Despite having a plotline based around corruption, there is a level of fun that is maintained throughout most of the film, before it settles further into dramatic territory.  On Blu-ray, this film has been well handled, with a solid picture transfer and audio track.  Not much in the way of extra features, but, at the very least, a rental is a good place to start for this film.

Grab your copy of Casino Jack today:

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Writer/Reviewer, Film Lover, Podcaster, Gamer, Comic Reader, Disc Golfer & a Lefty. There are too many films, TV, books, etc. for me to list as favorites, but I can assure that the amount film knowledge within my noggin is ridiculous, though I am always open to learning more. You can follow me on Twitter @AaronsPS4, see what else I am up to at TheCodeIsZeek.com & check out my podcast, Out Now with Aaron and Abe, on iTunes.

3 Responses to “Casino Jack (Blu-ray Review)”


  1. Brian White

    I still need to check this out one day.

  2. Jennifer P

    I enjoyed that film too, but I think you “hit the nail on the head” about its limited appeal. I believe a lot of my enjoyment was due to an interest in politics and history.

  3. Sean Ferguson

    I’m looking forward to this.