There are two things you need to know about this movie before you think about watching it: there is a pretty good documentary about this story that exists already and Kevin Spacey is the star.
The documentary came out eight months prior to this film. So it’ safe to assume at least some people saw the documentary before this film. I have seen the documentary before watching this film and I must say that, given that I know the story, I find the dialogue highly expository. Maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if I didn’t know the story already but, knowing the story, I find the film super expository – especially in the early going – and I felt like I was being lectured at.
Then there’s that other thing; what to do about films alleged sexual assaulters/predators. I have written about this before and I still haven’t quite decided what to do. I think it’s entirely reasonable for people to boycott a film like this because of the presence of Kevin Spacey. My rationalization (today) for watching a film like this is that it was made before the “open secret” became public and, presumably, he got paid what he got paid so my borrowing this from the library does not give him more money.
So, now that we got that out of the way:
This film has some basic issues that I probably wouldn’t care about if I hadn’t seen the documentary and I had the enjoyed the whole thing more. The biggest one is how this film is set up, with Abramoff being arrested and then with us being transported back into the past and him suddenly narrating for one brief moment, before he ceases narrating altogether. Sometimes films struggle with how to tell stories and it’s pretty clear that these people haven’t figured out exactly how to do it, and they were worried that anyone unfamiliar with lobbying in the US would be too confused, hence the brief narration and silly narrative structure.
Putting aside Kevin Spacey’s alleged behaviour – if you can – the film features are bravura performance which is a bit of a preview of his performance as a very different form corrupt Washington figure in House of Cards. Though the other roles don’t require anywhere as much acting, the other major roles are well done too. (Lovitz feels like a natural for his role even if he’s not much of an actor. Unfortunately he also seems to be a little too aware that he’s in a film that’s meant to be darkly comic.)
I’m not sure how much the frantic style – due to the editing – dilutes some of the effective performances and I wonder how much more effective this film would be as a black comedy or an indictment of the situation in the US – or both – if it wasn’t paced so manically but, instead, it’s frantic and characters come and go – and come again – and there’s not enough of the people around Jack and Mike to latch on to. What I’m trying to say is this could be better told, perhaps if it was longer, or perhaps if it wasn’t so damn manic. And I think it was better told in the documentary, which was also pretty damn manic, actually.