The Schmooze

Jack Abramoff's Religious Escape Hatch

Before Jack Abramoff was an American super-lobbyist, half-successful restaurateur, and convicted con man, he was a movie producer, known for bankrolling the 1989 Dolph Lundgren actioner “Red Scorpion” (part of Cold War cinema’s deconstructionist, though still violently anti-Soviet phase). It’s appropriate then, that George Hickenlooper’s Abramoff biopic, “Casino Jack,” which premiered last week at the Toronto International Film Festival, should evince such an obvious love of cinema.

The film’s opening scene — which is difficult to place in its larger chronology — shows Abramoff (played by Kevin Spacey) staring down his reflection in a bathroom mirror, fortifying his ego against the onslaught of Washington Post reporters, IRS bean counters, and Indian Affairs commissioners encircling him. It’s a scene that instantly recalls Robert DeNiro’s backstage monologue in Martin Scorsese’s “Raging Bull,“ which itself references Marlon Brando’s famous “I could have been a contender” bit in Elia Kazan’s “On The Waterfront.” But it also recalls another, earlier, DeNiro monologue delivered as the maladjusted Vietnam discharge Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver.” Just like Bickle, Abramoff (or at least Hickenlooper and Spacey’s Abramoff) has come to regard himself as God’s lonely man.

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Jack Abramoff's Religious Escape Hatch

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