Jack the rip-off artist
ICasino Jack and the United States of Money, documentary, rated R, CCA Cinematheque, 3 chiles Behind every ideologue, there’s a blood-drenched B movie. Whether such figures are of the left or right, politics is but a setting to enact their pulpfilm fantasies. What are Tea Party adherents, garbed in colonial drag and shouting “Kill the bill!” but reactionary middle-aged Braveheart fanboys, channeling their inner William Wallace — or at least the version of Wallace promoted in Mel Gibson’s bloated, freedom-shouting epic. In the same vein, it’s hard to watch the masked antihero of V for Vendetta as he hijacks the government-run TV stations of a neo-fascist Britain, proclaiming that “Artists use lies to tell the truth; politicians use lies to cover it up,” and not feel as if you’ve stumbled across the collective fantasy life of the netroots left.
I was reminded of the connection between political conspiracies and action thrillers while watching Casino Jack and the United States of Money, a new documentary about the life of lobbyist and con man extraordinaire Jack Abramoff. The film by Alex Gibney ( Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room, Taxi to the Dark Side) makes it clear that Abramoff wasn’t just massively corrupt, he torpedoed the careers of congressmen, dallied with the mob, sank Indian gaming casinos, and toyed with the lives of Asian garment workers — all in order to transform his life into something resembling the pulp spy movies he loved as a teenager.
As chair of the College Republicans, a national organization that incubates young conservative leaders, Abramoff left the group indebted by spending its remaining funds on thousands of copies of a paranoiac Cold War spy novel in 1983. Throughout the 1980s, Abramoff burned through millions of dollars donated by Republicans in order to create schlocky freedom-fighter propaganda in support of dubious Third World anti-communist forces.
Pay to play: friends of Jack