Jack Abramoff: The Documentary


Passionate Republican, fervent Orthodox Jew, ruthless wheeler-dealer, charismatic self-promoter, dreamer-and-doer, super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff at his height fashioned himself into a human ATM who lined the pockets of politicians on every side of the congressional aisle. Sooner or later, everybody from Tom DeLay to Patrick Kennedy was at least marginally in his debt. His meteoric rise and fall may seem on its surface to be yesterday’s news, but as recounted here by filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side and Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), the man’s uniquely dramatic career still has much to reveal about how power malfunctions in America. Indeed, Abramoff’s story is so much larger-than-life that Casino Jack is but one of two excellent films about the man coming out this year. The other—called Casino Jack as well, though that is reportedly about to change; starring Kevin Spacey and due in the fall—is a witty, psychological interpretive dance that persuasively imagines the climate inside Abramoff’s head. Gibney’s take is, by contrast, a thorough, diligent history that must work around the man (Abramoff is still in prison, unavailable for interview). Getting everybody around his subject to open up, Gibney is then able to map, as per his movie’s subtitle, The United States of Money, which made (and makes) such corruption possible. Abramoff fleeced Indian tribes of millions, while affecting to represent their gambling interests; he entangled himself with shady, murderous characters while launching his own fleet of gaming-boats—hence the nickname, “Casino Jack.” More chillingly, as Gibney’s patient, relentless X-ray of a movie magnifies in detail, Abramoff leads DeLay and others on junkets that hallow the sweat-shop archipelago that are the Marianas Islands as “a triumph of free enterprise.” Gibney makes the case that the United States sponsors and protects traffic in slave labor that continues to this day. The blindfold that allows us to tolerate this horror (if only tacitly, in our ignorance) is the very mad-money ethic for which Abramoff was the ecstatic ambassador, and convenient fall guy. Casino Jack and the United States of Money is indispensable viewing.