Casino Jack (Blu-ray)
Directed by George Hickenlooper
Studio: Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 1080p AVC codec
Running Time: 108 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 English
Subtitles: SDH, Spanish
MSRP: $ 29.99
Release Date: April 5, 2011
Review Date: April 5, 2011
A true story of ambition and hubris bringing down a deluded man who had he been content with his millions could have lived like a king for ten lifetimes, George Hickenlooper’s Casino Jack is alternately exhilarating and infuriating. The story gets one’s juices flowing as we see the power brokers in our nation’s capital puff themselves up as bastions of morality while skimming millions from the innocently unsuspecting, and were it not for a few key pieces of miscasting and an overly talky script, the film could have been much more involving and truly one of 2010’s best movies. It’s still pretty good and benefits from an excellent central performance, but what’s merely an above average production could have been a real home run with more attention to detail and a little less obeisance to their star.
Hard-driving lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) is always working his deals and angles, forever trying to get assurance money from his clients that he can get their issues straight to some Washington big shots, in particular two Congressmen he seems to have in his hip pocket: Tom DeLay (Spencer Garrett) and Bob Ney (Jeff Pustil). On his own, Jack has a knowledgeable but somewhat tenuous control of the enormous amounts of money his wheeling and dealing (with several tribes of Indians including, most notably, the Chippewa along with ties to organized crime and involvement in the offshore sweatshop industry), but he extensive deal-making becomes complex enough that he requires partners which is where he makes his big mistake. Young, overextended hotshot Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper) sees Jack’s lavish lifestyle and wants something similar for himself without taking necessary precautions, and disgraced lawyer and small-time racketeer Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) is an even poorer choice as a representative. Both of them are directly or indirectly instrumental in bringing down Jack’s GOP lobbying enterprises with their reckless and brainless choices which have them all implicated in massive governmental scandals during the George W. Bush era.
While Norman Snider’s screenplay hits all of the salient points that link these lobbyists to various governmental agencies (and a near-climactic fantasy sequence takes those implications even farther), it sometimes assumes that we’re following the money trail narrative with more foresight than we actually have. George Hickenlooper’s somewhat leaden direction doesn’t clear these narrative bumps in the road very smoothly, and the tone is a sometimes arch mixture of smirky, cynical humor and a more standard dramatic approach which can rankle. The montage which denotes Abramoff’s heady successes and his foolish decisions to create restaurants, a private school, and contribute millions to charities when his own mortgage payment is past due is the film’s best sequence though some later scenes where indicted conspirators are shown in retrospect seems tacked on and somewhat unsatisfying. Movie references figure pointedly into the narrative, but their use seems to trivialize the seriousness of what’s taking place here, and as there are really no characters for an audience to pull for (most of these people are really repellant), Casino Jack becomes more of a history lesson than the really involving character study it might have been.
One senses that Kevin Spacey is really running the show here as the director favors him in almost all the shots and allows the star to overdo the celebrity impersonations to the point of irritation even though the real-life Jack Abramoff was likewise fond of doing impressions. (Among these he allows the star to indulge in: Ronald Reagan, Sylvester Stallone, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Arnold Schwarzenegger/Dolph Lundgren, George W. Bush). Spacey does have great screen presence, but his pushy performance seems a bit too indulgent and oppressive. Barry Pepper doesn’t give his bombastic Michael Scanlon many shades, and Kelly Preston once again manages to land a large role with only a modicum of talent. Jon Lovitz is the key piece of miscasting here, however, as the former Saturday Night Live regular can’t hold his own in the frame with weightier and more decisive actors. Spencer Garrett is an excellent Tom DeLay, and Graham Greene offers another finely etched portrait of a Native American outraged by Abramoff’s chicanery. Daniel Kash makes a believable Mafioso Gus Boulis while Rachelle Lefevre does well with a couple of key moments as Scanlon’s disillusioned girl friend.
The film has been framed at 2.35:1 and presented in 1080p using the AVC codec. Shot with the Red camera, the image is genuinely sharp with excellent detail, but contrast is sometimes a little heavy giving a purplish hue to flesh tones and an overly blue appearance to certain scenes. Otherwise, color saturation is generally good though occasionally excessive. Black levels are very good indeed. The film has been divided into 28 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack does not get the most out of its surround soundfield. Jonathan Goldsmith’s score certainly gets wrapped across the fronts and wafts into the rears with impressive fidelity, but ambient sounds in the rears are few and far between, odd for a film which has several casinos and gaming vessels as locations. Dialogue has been well recorded and is firmly planted in the center channel.
“A Director’s Photo Diary” is a step-through series of color photographs taken behind the scenes of the filming and annotated by the director. The viewer has the choice of reading the annotations or skipping to the next picture.
The film’s gag reel runs for 8 ½ minutes and is in 480i.
There are five deleted/extended scenes which must be viewed in the 9-minute grouped vignette. They’re also in 480i.
The disc includes 1080p promo trailers for Street Kings 2, Mao’s Last Dancer, Cedar Rapids, and Black Swan.
3.5/5 (not an average)
Casino Jack may be an eye-opening experience for those who haven’t read a newspaper or watched a news broadcast for the last decade, but otherwise, its somewhat lumpy narrative and a slightly excessive star turn may be a turn on or a turn off depending on one’s expectations for historically biographical movies. A small selection of bonus material is also not much of a lure for a rental or purchase.