Written by Diane Tillis
Casino Jack and the United States of Money is a political documentary that takes a look into über lobbyist of the Republican Party, Jack Abramoff. The mind and voice behind this documentary is Alex Gibney, who also did documentaries Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room (2005), Oscar-winning Taxi to the Dark Side (2008), and My Trip to Al-Qaeda (2010). Jack Abramoff is the center of attention in this documentary as Gibney gathers interviews and archival material to expose the D.C. lobbyist as corrupt and greedy. However, the money trail does not end with Abramoff; rather he is just the origin. Viewers unfamiliar with the process of financing in the government will feel overwhelmed how deep the corruption goes and how many political figures profited from Abramoff.
Casino Jack and the United States of Money is broad in its scope of covered history: from the Reagan years to the second Bush administration, to the Marianas Islands to Malaysia. Alex Gibney questions the ‘Man Who Bought Washington’ and his personal goals. Gibney begins his exploration into Abramoff’s character, starting with his childhood influences into his college years as a part of the Young Republicans. From the Republican Movement of 1994, Abramoff made a fortune defending corporate interests and Indian casinos. The film’s analysis of Abramoff’s exploitive acts against casinos owned by American Indian tribes for millions of dollars is thorough, but way too complicated to be understood without an outline. There is so much information in this documentary, maybe too much for unfamiliar audiences to follow. I would recommend this film to those interested in political documentaries.
The video is presented in its original ratio aspect of 1.78:1. It is composed of interviews, newspaper clippings, photographs, and archival material of varying quality. Even with these different media, the video quality is excellent. While the occasional pieces of archived video clips are obviously of a different quality from the modern video, they are clear and visually understandable.
The audio is presented by Dolby Digital 5.1. I was surprised how even-leveled the audio was even with the mixture of the soundtrack, interviews, and archived clips with slightly damaged audio. The audio mixers of this documentary did a great job.
There is also an audio commentary by writer/director Alex Gibney. His track is interesting, but there is a lot of repetition between the commentary and the information provided by the special features. Adding the commentary to the already dialog-heavy video is overkill.
The DVD of Casino Jack and the United States of Money is full of supplementary material. The DVD provides a wealth of information surrounding the lobbying process through a few of the special features as well as behind the scenes featurettes. Behind the scenes featurettes include Deleted Scenes (7:41 total) and Extended Interviews (25:45 total).
There is also a video question-and-answer interview with the minds behind the documentary called the New York Film Premiere Q&A with Alex Gibney, Bob Ney, Neil Volz, and Adam Kidan (9:49).
A Conversation with Alex Gibney (8:15) is a video recorded interview of Gibney with a radio host. He discusses many of the same topics heard in the Q&A and commentary.
To understand more on the background history of lobbying and the government, check out the six Webisodes (26:51 total) of short videos meant to inform the audience and motivate them to learn more.
“It’s just a bill” (2:16) is a modern remake of the animation video “I’m just a bill” from Schoolhouse Rock and includes the influence of money on government processes.
Lobbying 101 is a collection of textual information on lobbying, campaign financing, and the Citizens United decision.
I can appreciate the complexity of the maze of corruption that is a part of our government and how it benefits the top tier of American society. I blame my own lack of knowledge when it comes to financing the government as to why I had a very hard time following this documentary.