Casino Jack and the United States of Money (2010) Poster

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United States of corruption
lee_eisenberg24 May 2010
When mega-lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to jail in early 2006, he was seen as the personification of corruption, along with Tom DeLay and Bob Ney. But as "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" shows, Abramoff and the individuals associated with him were just the tip of the iceberg. Alex Gibney's documentary takes the same approach to its topic that his previous documentary "Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room" does, looking at the roots of the main character, and how deregulation led to the culmination.

I had read in Al Franken's book "The Truth with Jokes" about Abramoff's fleecing of the Tigua Indians and DeLay's promotion of the Mariana Islands to hide the garment industry's sweatshops there. The documentary looks at those, and goes a little further into Abramoff's role in the college Republicans, alliance with Angolan autocrat Jonas Savimbi, and more. One of the most important points is how Abramoff and Ralph Reed used religious fundamentalism, specifically how Reed was making large sums of money through links to Indian casinos while pontificating against gambling.

But the most important topic that the documentary brings up is that this is neither "a few bad apples" nor a conspiracy. This happened because the American people let it happen by neglecting to take democracy seriously. Prevention of such events in the future requires the American people to stay vigilant of their government, and of corporations. Everyone should see this documentary.
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a tale of greed in Washington
Quinoa198410 May 2010
Jack Abramoff was very good at what he did, which was taking money from people, such as at casinos in Indian reservations or with making deals in the Marianas, as favors. Lots of money was thrown to Jack and his cronies like Michael Scanlon as if they were giving protection, or just acting as lobbyists do, which is often, at best, shady work and at worst downright immoral. But hey, where does morality come into play when you can make millions, have jets and sudden getaways to play golf in Scotland, and/or season tickets to give away as freebies to sweeten up people at football games? It's a story of how a guy like Abramoff, a smooth talker and hardcore conservative, almost got away with his bribery and extortion tactics because, basically, Washington itself would condone most of his actions until he crossed the line. In this D.C., Mr. Smith couldn't get the time of day.

What's intriguing in the film is how it looks at the system of lobbyists in a light not too unlike director Alex Gibney's previous documentary Enron. There's a certain lifestyle to be maintained with these guys like Abramoff and even his buddy in arms Tom Delay, almost a sort of alpha-male process of living through greed. And some of the best parts of the film actually aren't about the Indian Reservation scandal, but the back-story is what really sucks in a viewer. Abramoff was at the top of the crop, a College Republican at a time when Republicans looked to be on top with Regan in office and a fervent anti-Communists streak going through their methodology. Most amusingly we see an anti-Commie propaganda film Abramoff produced called Red Scorpion, featuring Dolph Lundgren and Abramoff's fascination with spies, which would carry over into his career on his own.

Another heartbreaking story shown in the film is that of the Marianas, and what happened with free-reign unregulated capitalism. At this particular place businesses could work without regulation, and so they paid practically slave wages (the workers were at best indentured servants), and because the Marianas were (or still are) apart of the US, they could send off clothes to be sold as "Made in the USA". But when a congressman tried to blow the lid off the corruption going on- not to mention the sex trade- Abramoff was hired by people who wanted everything to be shown as squeaky clean, and reporters and Republican congressmen were flown down, shown everything was honky dory, and then got their R-and-R on at five star hotels. Ultimately the Marianas were left devastated when other treaties came in to regulate, but it was a demonstration of what could be done, rather bafflingly, by an unfettered "free market" - in large part thanks to Abramoff's kick-backs and reports from such free-market people as Delay and Dana Rorbacher.

The testimonies give a lot of juicy and simply insightful information, and we really get to know how this mind of Abramoff's worked in relation to the power dynamic in Washington. He wasn't a politician, but he could do one better by feeding into the kick-backs and campaign contribution frenzy that is often the name of the game in DC. He did, ultimately, go into illegal territory, but the scary thing is that he could have potentially gotten away with all of it, and did for years (the fake corporation, for example, that was run by a surfer-dude and laundered hundreds of thousands that Abramoff didn't want to claim as income). It's a tale that has, at times, a multitude of details, especially when covering the Indian Reservation casino scandal. But in a way I liked how detailed it was; it gets to a point where Gibney keeps giving us these facts and notes of interest, and it just builds up to this: how corrupt and intricate can this get? Apparently, a lot.
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thoughtful politics - deserves to be seen
chuck-52614 June 2010
"Casino Jack" is about the Jack Abramoff lobbying/influence-peddling/fraud scandal ...and more. It's firmly in the form of a "documentary", but with a much larger team and budget and higher production values than that category label might at first lead you to expect. For example, many scenes that could be nothing more than dry transcript reading are in fact voiced by an actor over an image of a moving reel tape player as well as the printed materials.

The film is not particularly "slanted" or "one-sided" (although it's fairly easy to figure out where the filmmakers sympathies lie), and doesn't try hard to "demonize" any individual (although some subjects do a pretty good job of demonizing themselves). The film's main challenge is to circumscribe the large and somewhat ill-defined subject of money's influence on U.S. politics into a single coherent short story. Using the Jack Abramoff scandal as the framework to do that is inspired, but still barely enough. All the different sorts of scams that even that one individual was connected with can be a bit unwieldy (quick, how are garment sweatshops, Indian casinos, and a fleet of gambling ships related to each other?).

The film's (non)distribution is awful; don't take it as indicative of the quality. As is usual for "Participant" films, this film wants you to think for yourself and avoids "blood boiling". That also seems to mean it hasn't got enough commercial potential to get the full attention of the right people ...but even so I can't figure out why it's so inadequately distributed that it's just plain hard to find in most markets. You have to seek it out - it won't find you.

Lots of psychological background information about what may have made various people tick is presented. I found much of it pretty scary. Several political operatives -including some with a very different public persona- are shown to be driven by a "win at any cost" mentality and to have no sense of fairness nor appropriateness (let alone any discernible personal morals). Quite a few are shown to be driven by a "spy novel mentality", and to have played at being guerrilla soldiers. When the least offensive word to describe people is "paranoid", I quake in my boots. There's at least one case of a Luddite revulsion against modern technology and modern society in general, motivated by a rosy fantasy of small village life. And there's at least one explicit case -and several more implicit ones- of someone so totally engrossed in "doing a good job" that they only think about "the big picture" when reality clubs them over the head once every few years.

The film lays out pretty clearly the tight connections between lobbyists and the administration in power at that time. It quickly moves on after convincing the viewer that lobbyists couldn't bend our government into doing something it didn't already sort of want to do anyway.

In the end, the film tries to make the case that we're not talking about one bad apple, nor even about lots of bad apples, but about something about the barrel that causes apples to go bad. And the film suggests what that might be. The hugely rising and now outrageous cost of political campaigns is mentioned, as are the fact that federal politicians have to spend part of every day raising money, and even that they typically have a _permanent_ campaign organization. One politician whose career was upended by the scandal even explicitly says the words "public funding of campaigns". I was surprised listening to the people around me in the theater that even though the film's projection of this message seemed very plain to me, it could be completely missed by many viewers.

While the film mostly focuses on the Jack Abramoff scandal, it does mention the more recent financial crisis, and how campaign contributions and influence peddling may have contributed it. The film very briefly states its point that scores of nameless participants in the system can -and continue to- do far more damage than one rogue "super" lobbyist ever did.
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Native Americans hire PR flack to discredit director Gibney
charlytully3 April 2011
Warning: Spoilers
First, in regard to CASINO JACK AND THE UNITED STATES OF MONEY, Alex Gibney obviously is spreading himself too thin. Like most directors given an Oscar, he suddenly thinks he needs to cover every sub-genre in his field (in his case, feature documentaries), as evidenced by the quality of the six he has released since winning the Academy Award for his masterful TAXI TO THE DARK SIDE in early 2008. CASINO JACK is no exception to this slide. The title and opening imply the movie's main subject will be the way in which the U.S. House of Representatives' Tom "The Hammer" DeLay, R-TX used millions of dollars of Native American gambling profits to illegally force the Texas state legislature to dole out a half dozen congressional seats (stolen from northern states through the U.S. Census counting of illegal aliens) to his own country-clubbing GOP cronies.

However, the first hour of this film is devoted to a peripheral sideshow involving DeLay's go-between with the Native Americans, "Casino Jack" Abramoff, and some Asian sex slaves duped into Northern Marianas Island sweat shops, chained to their sewing machines, raped by their foremen and forced to have abortions while dozens of "investigating" evangelical Christian GOP congressmen golfed at a five-star Hyatt Regency with Jack and Tom a couple miles away.

Furthermore, Gibney skims over the relationship between DeLay, Abramoff and the GOP-hijacked pipeline manufacturer ENRON in one brief sentence, politely skipping over how ENRON intentionally bankrupted the state of California because Arnold Schwarzenegger did not want to wait for the next SCHEDULED election to become governor. (C'mon, he's already done a whole feature on this; couldn't he have had at least a TWO-sentence reprise here?) Finally, Gibney uses his exclusive interview footage with DeLay, jailed Ohio Congressman Bob Ney, R-OH and other members of the young Republican Class of 1984 which pulled off the recent economic coup d'etat against the American middle class to lob a series of softball questions that probably had Michael Moore falling out of his chair with hysterical laughter. If only CASINO JACK had a little of Moore's humor, its running time might have seemed closer to its actual 2 hours than 5 or 6.

Ironically enough, the very same people "Casino Jack" called "m--f--ing morons" and "monkeys" within E-mails dramatically read aloud during CASINO JACK, that is, the Native Americans Gibney shows contributed $32 million in "lobbying fees" in one four-year period alone, have hired a Washington, DC, PR hack to write a book telling what a bad man Gibney is for impugning the reputation of "Saint Jack," according to a friend of mine who was contacted to help shill her book near one of the reservations Abramoff duped. Apparently, the reservation leaders in cahoots with Jack feel it is bad for their political careers for tribal members to learn they only got about $500,000 worth of actual lobbying, at the going rate, for the tens of millions they secretly funneled to the GOP shell corporations. This movie shows most of that money went for Jack and political soul mates to live the life of bazillionaires while rubbing shoulders at resorts with George W. Bush and most of the other notable Republicans of the times. All the while, Jack and his financial thugs were disparaging the natives, chortling that they were the stupidest rich people in the world. Now, to save face, these same dupes that were fleeced have to pay to have books written in an effort to paint black white (to borrow a phrase that one talking head in this movie says was Jack Abramoff's stock-in-trade).
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Not as good as Enron, but a fun, interesting documentary nonetheless
Jackpollins7 May 2010
Warning: Spoilers
Watching Casino Jack And The United States Of Money, you can't help but realize it's from the same guy who made Enron, a great documentary with what is pretty much the same type of subject. That's why I can't quite the newest from director Alex Gibney a particularly great movie. Sure, it's fun and interesting and the subject is interesting, but Enron blew my mind. I do, although highly recommend this film. The film's a documentary on Jack Abramoff, a politician who appeared nice at first but ended up screwing over one too many people. The film director could not get Abramoff to be in the film as he is still serving his jail sentence. This is both a good thing and a bad thing. On one hand, it makes it so you get to hear from a lot of interesting alternatives. On the other hand, it's not as interesting if we don't get to hear from his side. The film manages to be a documentary and be entertaining, a hard feat for a documentary to accomplish. Alex Gibney is a talented director, and obviously know what he's doing with this type of material. Although not as good as this director's other film about political greed and scandals, the interesting subject, great interviewees, and fun execution make me highly recommend Casino Jack And The United States Of Money.
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Doesn't have the staying power
napierslogs9 January 2011
Alex Gibney knows how to make a documentary. Like good documentaries, "Casino Jack and the United States of Money" is educational and informative. Unlike great documentaries, it is neither emotionally-resonating nor interesting.

This film lacked anything to get me invested in it. The opening, introducing me to Jack Abramoff and all the players, was well researched and potentially interesting but very dry. Although I didn't find it enthralling, explosive or hilarious, I thought it could have been important but it doesn't have the timing that the more popular documentaries have.

"Casino Jack and the United States of Money" is good for documentary-lovers, but it doesn't have the staying power that a well told story should have.
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Why we hide in the dark.
st-shot6 January 2014
It may well have to do with the fact that the pond scum explored in this doc about ripping off American Indians is so pervasive in the American political system is why we hide in dark theatres getting lost in contrived dreams rather than deal with the reality of these leeches in Armani suits with tentacles capable of getting the ear of some of the most powerful pols in DC. Given the choice of a spike in blood pressure or zoning out on an insipid comedy or unrealistic suspense drama where the good guy triumphs most of us choose (gauged by the miscreants huge take and light sentences) the latter.

Casino Jack and the United States of Money is a mostly sober telling of super lobbyist Jack Abramhoff's rise and fall as he wheels and deals with not only shaking down American Indians with useful idiots for sale such as former Congressmen Bob Ney, Tom Delay and Ralph Reed but also involvement with Asian sweat shop owners and mob tied floating casinos. For Jack and his slimy cohorts Neil Volz and Michael Scanlon it was all about the green and coming up with creative ways to extract it from clients which they did in millions.

Doc film maker Alex Gibney does a fine job of presenting the duplicitous practices of all involved diagramming for the viewer how money is funneled to get around campaign finance laws and keep the powers that be hands clean in the process. He retains his liberal credentials by hammering home the point it is mainly Republicans with their hands out but Congressional minority leader Reid of Nevada as well as Ted Kennedy "dim son" and former Congressman from RI, Patrick Kennedy are noted briefly getting a pretty hefty chunk of change as well.

It is all a very dispiriting to view Casino Jack and the DC crowd gouging rather than serving made even more so by an insider that states these smoke and mirror practices are still in place today and will continue to be as long as money talks and campaign reform is kept at bay and an apathetic public views it as standard operational procedure. Gee, I wonder if they are showing a Laurel and Hardy down at the multiplex today?
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nogodnomasters16 December 2018
Warning: Spoilers
This is an interesting documentary whose effects are still being felt and whose ending has not yet been written. The movie concentrates on the illegal influence peddling and money laundering of Jack Abramoff, an ideological Republican. It starts with his college days which also shows clips of Karl Rove and Ralph Reed as a college student. While the film mentions Rove by name, it never connects him to any wrong doing. Rove's film is called "Bush's Brain."

The film interjects classic movie footage into the documentary, aka Michael Moore style, but fails to achieve the humor of a Moore film, nor does it grip you like one of his films. The musical score was hit and miss. The production needed better editing and shortening.

The problem of campaign financing is that it has evolved into an overt form of legalized bribery. It is still with us today. Until this is changed our Republic is in peril to well financed special interest groups.

Occasional F-bomb, no sex, no nudity.
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eye-opening exhaustive doc on corrupt politics
SnoopyStyle18 January 2016
In Fort Lauderdale 2001, Greek tycoon Gus Boulis, who runs SunCruz casino ships, is gunned down. This is the beginning of the end for Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He has built a career coning native groups, corrupted politics, and backslapping all the way to the highest level of Republican officials.

This is an exhaustive look at one of the reasons why American politics is so corrupt and how it has ingrained into the system. It is also a fascinating look at Abramoff's personality. Without a doubt, this is definitely ignored or panned by the political right. The big question for this two hour long documentary is whether the story is understandable and compelling. This is a simple to understand story. The story is eye-opening. It is compelling for anybody who wants to know what is going on.
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