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dir George Hickenlooper
scr Norman Snider
prd Gary Howsam, Bill Marks, George Zakk
with Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Kelly Preston, Jon Lovitz, Rachelle Lefevre, Daniel Kash, Spencer Garrett, Jeffrey R Smith, Jeff Pustil, Graham Greene, Eric Schweig, Maury Chaykin
release US 17.Dec.10
Bad men: Spacey and Pepper
TORONTO FILM FEST
|R E V I E W B Y R I C H C L I N E
With a freewheeling, comical tone, this sharp film illustrates just one of the huge flaws in the American political system. It's entertaining and pointed, but ultimately somewhat flippant.
Jack Abramoff (Spacey) is a Washington lobbyist who is legally allowed to accept money from special interest organisations to represent them to politicians. And he rather enjoys living the high life. Then Jack and his partner Michael (Pepper) figure out how to get rich themselves by going into business with a Native American casino venture. Soon they're in league with a lowlife salesman (Lovitz) with casino experience, getting public officials to pass laws that favour their business interests. Of course the money blinds them to their ethical failings just as the Feds start investigating.
The film is a rush of snappy, snarky dialog, directed and edited at a frenetic pace. This jagged, adrenaline-charged filmmaking is extremely effective at portraying these wheeler-dealer lobbyists and politicians, and while the film is often hilarious, it's pretty terrifying to see how easy it is to manipulate the most powerful government on earth. The late Hickenlooper directs the film with a sleek, steely stare, letting us see the naked ambition of characters who, while pretending to be concerned about America, find ways of stealing money while subverting democracy.
Spacey sails skilfully through the breezy narrative while adding dark shadings and textures along the way. He's especially good linking the lively political story to Jack's quiet, relatively mundane private life with his sexy wife (Preston) and kids. His devout Judaism and obsession with cinema are both cleverly portrayed. Alongside him, Pepper is edgy and sometimes scary as a guy who's seduced by the idea of building a personal empire.
It's such a lively, funny movie that we are sometimes distracted from the fact that the film is exposing something truly horrifying. These are depictions of real-life politicians and opportunists who were (and still are) driven by greed and arrogance. And even as it makes us laugh at the man, the film is clearly condemning the whole system rather than Jack Abramoff himself. As his wife says, just because all the other lobbyists are doing the same thing doesn't make it right.
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© 2010 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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