"Is the story of Abramoff a tale of personal corruption," Alex Gibney asks at the beginning of his 2010 documentary Casino Jack and the United States of Money, "or the story of what our democracy has become?" Gibney inclines sharply toward the latter view. His insistence on presenting the career of lobbyist-cum-convicted-felon Jack Abramoff as an illustration of money's corrupting influence on politics mars an appallingly amusing movie that is really about politics' corrupting influence on money.
For Abramoff, Gibney claims, "The buying and selling of politicians was the free market in action." But what does the free market have to do with using government to crush a client's competitors, obtain grants and special favors, or pressure the owner of a casino boat fleet into selling it on favorable terms? A former congressional chief of staff who was implicated in the Abramoff scandal comes closer to the truth when he tells Gibney, "It's an issue of power." —Jacob Sullum