- User Rating: Excellent
Bang For The Buck
Pros:Exciting, always interesting, documentary.
Cons:More people won't see it.
The Bottom Line: DVD of this thrilling, informative MUST SEE documentary now available. See it.
Casino Jack and the United States of Money is a smart lively fast moving, suspenseful Documentary that plays almost like an edge of your seat thriller.
It's made by Alex Gibney who gave us Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room and the Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side and Gonzo: The Life and Work of Hunter S. Thompson and a few other excellent documentaries -many that made complicated material understandable and come alive on the screen.
This one couldn't be timelier coming after the bitter government battles over budget issues, financial reform, healthcare and economy measures and right before mid-term elections. (Gee you mean Chris still insists voting is important? How naïve...I am, huh?).
You want to really understand how special interest groups and lobbyists get their voices heard in Washington? You'll see the process for yourself. As Senator Peter Fitzgerald says: it's "a system of legalized bribery."
We look at the case of Jack Abramoff who rose to become one of the very best at connecting money to people in power. He knew how to say the right thing at the right time to all kinds of people. He was passionate, worked hard and then went too far and ultimately wound up in one of the biggest cases of fraud, tax evasion and conspiracy to bribe public officials every publicly exposed.
It's probably a story you remember and maybe didn't quite understand. Did you know that more than 200 members of the Congress and Senate received ‘Abramoff money'? That some of the richest and most powerful people in the country were involved? That many of elected officials never ‘paid' for their crimes and counted on the public to forget about it so they could move on with their political careers? Remember hearing about these fancy vactions and golf trips?
Here's a documentary that tells us a complicated story, but keeps us thoroughly entertained. Sometimes it's funny, sometimes it's shocking, and often it's tragic. Gibney and producer-editor Alison Ellwood have weaved a wide variety of archival news footage, photos and copied documents with on-camera interviews with many of the participants including: ex- Ohio Congressman Robert Ney, who went to prison for 17 months and former Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was forced to resign because of the scandal (and wound up on ‘Dancing with the Stars').
You might be thinking... nope, I don't like to watch these kinds of documentaries. It's about an old story and I don't remember much about Jack Abramoff and quite frankly don't need to know about another crook in our system. Finance and politics are basically boring and I can't read more than a few paragraphs of a story in the Newspaper about this kind of thing, why would I ever watch a 2 hour documentary about it.
It's almost like watching an action thriller, that's why. And you'll see how a group of folks tricked and deceived all kinds of people so that they could rich and have some power and influence. The story involves setting up sweatshops, building fancy resorts with golf courses, working with foreign officials, taking money from wealthy businessmen and giving some of it to elected officials in exchange for their votes on certain bills.
One of the most interesting scams involved Native American Gambling Casinos. Penn and Teller couldn't have devised a cleverer con game than what Abramoff and his co-horts pulled off.
How did this guy play one Native American tribe against another, support slave labor, corrupt business and government officials and make himself millions and millions of dollars in the process? It's a fascinating exciting, story.
In just two hours it will be explained and shown to you. You'll meet all kinds of characters. Some you know from the news, some you don't. Some seem pretty normal; others seem like slick tough gangsters.
Along the way we get interesting film clips, and some clever musical choices are picked to keep things slick and entertaining. We'll learn a little bit about how some of this stuff works. And gaining a little knowledge while being entertained for a couple of hours isn't a bad thing.
So many of us are so frustrated with politics, being lied to, government waste, high levels of corruption, we don't really believe things will change. Since many believe the problems are so big, deep, complicated and beyond their reach, they are overwhelmed into doing nothing. Someone else can figure this out and do something about it.
Many know this reflects a lousy, self-defeating attitude that will only lead to more of the same. But hey, things sort of take care of themselves.
The really powerful people don't seem to get punished. We don't always understand why and how this can be...but we see it over and over again. Something stinks and it seems this guy or that guy is to blame and then somehow...someone else gets in trouble, a few hands get slapped and business as usual continues.
I was angry and frustrated by the end of Casino Jack and the United States of Money. I knew most of the story and had followed some of the complications of what happened a few years ago and I believe some of the worst offenders who made decisions that cost all of us a lot of money pretty much got away with highway robbery-again.
At least this time it was exposed pretty noisily. And although this particular story is now history, it's not completely over and if we don't remember and understand it then not only will we be doomed to repeat it...we'll repeat even sooner.
A few years go by and everyone forgets about it, not much changes. In fact some decisions about campaign financing allowing corporations to give as much money to candidates as they want and to do it anonymously is certainly going to lead to more corruption of power and mis-appropriation of funds. We need to be paying more attention not less.
In making some of this material easier to understand, some details have been condensed. There's the whole business of the 501C3 organization called CREA and other organizations that illegally funneled money to people like Karl Rove to discredit and smear democratic candidates that is barely mentioned in an effort to keep the story a bit more non-partisan than it should be.
At 2 hours and already telling a complicated story, some of the exclusions and abridgements are understandable.
Anyway, Casino Jack and the United States of Money is just about as exciting and entertaining to watch as an Action thriller. Make sure you see it soon.
You can even stream it on Netflix (October 2010), right now.
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