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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