I had the opportunity last month to see Alex Gibney’s Jack Abramoff documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money. I’ll be honest with you, too: I didn’t review that documentary largely because I didn’t follow it particularly well. Jack Abramoff was a terrible motherfucking sleaze, and he was involved in so much evil that it all blurred together incoherently. I don’t blame Alex Gibney for the muddled nature of Casino Jack — he was simply trying to be complete and, in doing so and without providing a simple enough narrative structure, the documentary got bogged down in too much minutia, minutia of which I had a difficulty understanding. The Abramoff scandals were a lot more involved and, really, entrenched into the government structure than I think many of us might believe. He screwed over a lot of people and he pulled more government strings than you’d imagine was possible from one man. The casino scandal was just one of many — he pitted Native American casinos against each other and against the government and profited wildly in doing so — it was just the easier one to understand (the work he did with Tom DeLay to encourage sex shops and sweat shops and compel women to have abortions in the Northern Mariana Islands was a lot more sinister, but harder to understand (and, in the end, harder to prove)).
Most of us are generally leery of Hollywood depictions of reality, but in the case of Abramoff, I actually think — in order to begin to grasp the situation — we need a simple, black and white Hollywood narrative, a movie with a sharper focus that will highlight the lobbying conspiracy in terms most of us can more easily grasp and understand. I have no doubt that George Hickenlooper’s Bagman will take plenty of liberties, both dramatic and structural. But to fully understand what happened, we need an accessible entry point. I’m hoping that Bagman will provide it.
And no one does sleazy business man type better than Kevin Spacey (well, no one except Michael Douglas). Here’s the trailer for Bagman (formerly Casino Jack).