Last week, documentary director Alex Gibney rode a wave of Tribeca buzz with a work-in-progress, about disgraced former governor Eliot Spitzer. If we’re to judge from the productive Gibney’s other new film—a profile of convicted influence peddler Jack Abramoff—Eliot and Ashley can rest easy. Way too timid given the severity of the crimes, Casino Jack and the United States of Money loads down its running time with dull details, cutesy flourishes (Elvis Costello’s “Watching the Detectives” to a scene of counting campaign contributions) and scant analysis of the overall deregulation that Abramoff effected. Say what you will about Michael Moore, but this is a subject that requires his kind of scabrous rage, not lightweight snark.
A merely serviceable doc would have used Abramoff’s chummy Young Republican days as a launching point for a psychological inquiry into how fiscal corruption and entitlement take root. Gibney, however, falls below this mark, introducing footage of the apple-cheeked Abramoff (plus pals Karl Rove, Ralph Reed and Grover Norquist) in peppy, colorful sequences with little bite. The big absence here is the man himself; Gibney couldn’t get the jailed Abramoff on camera, either due to unwillingness or a Justice Department intervention. Whatever the reason, it’s crippling.—Joshua Rothkopf
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