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Casino Jack

Bet the House

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

Augean Stables that it was, the Bush regime is going to require years of cleansing. An especially fragrant part of that era is the story of Jack Abramoff and the still-at-large Tom DeLay.

The sordid tale is told in Alex Gibney’s documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money. Abramoff’s scams — influence peddling, double-crossing, and slave-labor profiteering — haven’t been thoroughly explained in documentary form yet.

It’s appropriate that cinema should be used to prosecute Abramoff. He was an ex-industry executive who turned to politics as a way of passing on his right-wing views through more effective means than making movies about them. The felon in question produced the commie-bashing 1989 Dolph Lundgren stinker Red Scorpion.

A weightlifter by avocation, and a thug by behavior, Abramoff gravitated toward the GOP as a Young Republican organizer. He helped lead Ronald Reagan to the side of the contra “freedom fighters” and the apartheid-financed army of Africa’s Jonas Savimbi.

He became a lobbyist, the doorkeeper for former Texas bug-zapper Tom DeLay, later the Republican Congressional majority whip. As such, Abramoff became one of the biggest boodlers since Boss Tweed, fattened by money from Jew-hating Malaysian leaders, tribal casinos, Saipan sweatshops, and Indian casinos.

The chapters are divided by a ragingly good R&B soundtrack—Nina Simone’s “Sinner Man” is especially on point. The director of Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room interviews some of the horrified witnesses to Abramoff’s career. Subjects include Bay Area Rep. George Miller, who tells a particularly stomach-turning story about the free market at loose in the Marianas Islands.

Gibney uses the image of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington as a counterbalance to Abramoff’s greed. One almost needs this kind of oversimplified patriotism after witnessing such nauseating political cynicism. It’s gratifying to see footage of Abramoff right where he belonged, sweating in front of a congressional hearing and taking more fifths than an alcoholic shoplifter.

A movie this cinema heavy deserves one last film reference, though. How about Geoffrey Rush’s line in The Tailor of Panama: “They caught Ali Baba, but they didn’t get the 40 thieves”.