2010 // Canada // George Hickenlooper // November 11, 2010 // Theatrical Print (Tivoli Theater)
SLIFF opened on a somber tone with the final film from native son George Hickenlooper, who passed away not two weeks ago. Slight and garish compared to his finer works, Casino Jack nonetheless seems a fitting parting shot for Hickenlooper, whose films have always been fascinated with illicit schemes, labyrinths of obsession, and spectacular flame-outs. The director's brash approach to the sordid fall of Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) solicits goggling at the self-deception and decadence on display, all while provoking sympathetic nods and gallows chuckles. The script by Norman Snider descends into the shabby and ludicrous at times, and Hickenlooper's political and moral outrage seems to blind him to these missteps. Nonetheless, there's a novel gusto to the film's voracious assault on real-world personalities--cartoonishly presented though they might be--that enlivens an otherwise schematic tale of Scarface-style ascension and collapse. Hickenlooper poses an America ruled by gluttonous, delusional children, but his point is more grimly amusing than biting. And this, ultimately, is what most disappoints about Casino Jack: it aims not to expand political awareness or reveal anything about its characters, but to merely confirm our most jaded suspicions about the corridors of power.