Passionate Republican, fervent Orthodox Jew, ruthless wheeler-dealer, super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff at his height fashioned himself into a human ATM machine who lined the pockets of politicians on every side of the aisle. Sooner or later, everybody from Tom DeLay to Patrick Kennedy was at least marginally in his debt. His meteoric rise and fall may seem on its surface to be yesterday's news, but as recounted here by filmmaker Alex Gibney (Taxi to the Dark Side, Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room), the man's uniquely dramatic career still has much to reveal about how power malfunctions in America. Getting everybody around his subject to open up (Abramoff is still in prison, unavailable for interviews), Gibney presents a thorough history and then maps our United States of Money, which made (and makes) such corruption possible. Abramoff fleeced Indian tribes of millions while affecting to represent their interests; he entangled himself with murderous characters while launching his own fleet of gaming boats. More chillingly, as Gibney's relentless X-ray of a movie magnifies in detail, Abramoff leads politicians on junkets that hallow the sweatshop archipelago that are the Marianas Islands as "a triumph of free enterprise." Gibney makes the case that the U.S. sponsors and protects traffic in slave labor that continues to this day. The blindfold that allows us to tolerate this (if only tacitly, in our ignorance) is the very mad-money ethic for which Abramoff was the ecstatic ambassador and convenient fall guy.
Abramoff in his pre-prison days.
Opens at Varsity, Fri., May 14. Rated R. 122 minutes.