After years in Hollywood obscurity, Kevin Spacey returns to the type of complex role that established him as one of the great actors of our time by portraying former super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff. As Spacey opens up giving himself a pep-talk in a mirror, we instantly recognize the great actor and the tone is set that this is going to be an intense ride. Even though the film couldn’t live up to what it set up for us in that great opening scene, it was still nice to see Spacey at the top of his game and give life to a character that could have faltered in the hands of a less talented actor.
Director George Hickenlooper had his work cut out for him when it came to telling the story of Jack Abramoff’s fall from grace. Jack is a lobbyist, which in and of itself is a profession few people know anything about, that got carried away with a swindle he was working on some Native American Indian casino owners. Through a series of events that Jack orchestrated, he and some of his coworkers were charged with a variety of crimes and linked to the murder of a Greek casino owner. The story was dizzying reading it in the Wall Street Journal when it happened and there are so many people involved, each with their own set of lies and idiosyncrasies that telling the story in a 107 minute film is challenging to say the least. The problem is that each character in the film has their own backstory and reasoning for behaving the way they do. That takes time to establish, but doesn’t necessarily equal entertainment. We spent a lot of time setting up a grand ending that fell a little flat.
As for that ending, I really wanted a faster pace (although that could be said for the entire film). But as things were coming to a head, I wanted to see all the characters go through their meltdowns in rapid succession. I would imagine that there was a great intensity as these events were unfolding and that intensity didn’t translate well in the film. That fault falls on Hickenlooper, who failed to pace the film properly and then stuttered with the ending. Between the federal raids and the murder, there was plenty of opportunity to blast the audience with a great ending that just never came to fruition.
The Jack Abramoff in the film was very similar to the self-centered Mark Whitacre, depicted by Matt Damon in THE INFORMANT. They were both caught up in an egocentric reality that they created and failed to see the world around them. When Abramoff was informed that he made the front page of the Wall Street Journal for his crimes, his only response was “above the fold?” The only downside to a character like that is that it’s hard to root for them or care about their plight. When you have a movie without any redeemable characters, it makes it hard for the audience to get emotionally involved, which leads to a somewhat anticlimactic ending. The fact that the audience managed to follow Abramoff’s story from beginning to end is a credit to Mr. Spacey, whose performance should be mentioned as one of the best when 2010 comes to an end.