Casino Jack and the United States of Money
“Were we more innocent once, or just naive?” our narrator asks over choice shots of Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington. “Is the story of Abramoff a tale of personal corruption, or the story of what our democracy has become?” Or: Are rhetorical questions and tritely ironic old-movie riffs, used to bracket talking-head torrents of rehashed old-news, at all viable anymore in the making of effective political documentaries? Clearly, Alex Gibney, the aforementioned narrator and Oscar-lauded filmmaker, thinks so. For Gibney, the rehashing has inherent value; his what-just-happened-here formula has worked before, and certainly the monstrous lobbyism that has marauded through our government is a subject worthy of much reflection. Still, it’s not just the Jack Abramoff apologists who’ll want to tune out eventually. (At least wait for the hiss-worthy cameo from former 4th District co-conspirator John Doolittle.) With all due (false) humility, Gibney himself actually calls this “a dreary documentary,” and no amount of Stanley Tucci and Paul Rudd acting out ludicrously incriminating e-mail exchanges will improve that fact. No matter, apparently: Tireless chronicler of depressing public-service clusterfuckery that he is, Gibney already has moved on to an Eliot Spitzer project.