Review and interview with Alex Gibney, the writer & director
“High rollers in Indian casinos, hookers in Saipan, a murdered Greek tycoon, Cold War spy novels, plush trips to paradise…. and the United States Congress. These are among the intriguing clues that add up to the epic mystery behind one of the greatest attempted heists in American history”.
Sound like a thriller to you? Yes, it is, but it is also a documentary, and the documentary got there first, written and directed by Alex Gibney, the filmmaker who brought us Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room and Taxi to the Dark Side. The thriller titled Casino Jack will be on our screens in September and stars Kevin Spacey. You shouldn’t watch the second one until you’ve seen the first because, according to Alex Gibney, reality has most definitely trumped fiction on this occasion.
Casino Jack is one Jack Abramoff, a man from a privileged background who achieved very little in life until he set his sights on the casinos run by Native Americans. As soon as he spotted his prey, he lined up his ducks (in this case, buyable politicians) and then proceeded to rob the casinos blind under the guise of ‘lobbying’. He was also one of the major fund-raisers for the Republican Party and there is a great moment in the documentary, just after Abramoff’s arrest, when Bush announces “He does not know this man”. We then get a shot of Abramoff as an honored guest at the presidential table. Great storytelling both on the part of the filmmaker and the erstwhile president.
Alex Gibney does an excellent job of presenting the facts but it is retrospective rather than investigative and Abramoff was already serving his four year sentence when Gibney picked up the mantle, so there are therefore no interviews with the villain and this leaves quite a gap as this is, after all, Casino Jack’s story. Gibney did interview him extensively in prison after his conviction but no recording equipment was allowed so there is nothing to show. It is also more of a journey for the audience if we are able to witness the arrogance of our villains as they zoom off in their high-spec Mercedes, full of confidence that they are the one’s who will get away with it, and then see them carted off in the back of a Sedan, preferably chained to someone in a highly-recognizable uniform. The partners in crime who Gibney interviewed after their convictions have been humbled by their experiences which is fine as far as it goes, but having not seen them at the top we only see them on their best behavior which does not always make the best viewing.
Gibney has some admirable ideas as to how these non-violent criminals should be dealt with, which includes taking all their money, making them live in Government housing and taking a job in MadDonalds. So if he had his way the entire camera crew could have camped out for days getting as close to Abramoff as they needed and the only tip they would have to give him was ‘Don’t rob native American casino owners, as you’ll probably get caught’.
Release date: 7th May, 2010
Producers: Jigsaw Productions