Ron Howard delivers decent entertainment with The Dilemma, starring Kevin James and Vince Vaughn; director George Hickenlooper's Casino Jack showcases superb acting from Kevin Spacey and Barry Pepper.
The Dilemma and Casino Jack
Director: Ron Howard
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Kevin James, Jennifer Connelly, Winona Ryder
Ron Howard, more accustomed to bringing the past to life with modern biopics and historical dramas such as Frost/Nixon and A Beautiful Mind, steps into lighter territory for the relationship comedy The Dilemma. On the verge of the deal of a lifetime with a major car manufacturer, Ronny (Vaughn) discovers his business partner Nick's (James) wife is having an affair.
As he wrestles with the decision of whether to tell his best friend about the infidelity, his erratic behaviour begins to arouse suspicion in both Nick and Ronny's girlfriend Beth (Connelly), who suspect his old gambling problem has resurfaced. Comedy is not usually Howard's genre, and perhaps the film suffers as a result. Once the dilemma of the title is introduced it's a long, and sometimes quite random, path to a predictable conclusion.
However, the cast is strong enough to ensure that the journey is not altogether a dull one, with some clever writing from Allan Loeb (who wrote last year's The Switch) and a strong cast with a lot of chemistry providing the bulk of the entertainment in this film. Vaughn himself sparks wonderfully with everyone involved - with James and Connelly he forms believable relationships, and even shares some interesting scenes with the film's "villain", Ryder (who plays Nick's cheating wife). The story may wander, and bears none of Howard's usual hallmarks, but the talent involved ensures The Dilemma offers more than just your average date movie.
Director: George Hickenlooper
Starring: Kevin Spacey, Barry Pepper, Jon Lovitz, Kelly Preston
The final film directed by the documentary filmmaker George Hickenlooper before his tragic death last October, Casino Jack is a dramatisation about the American super-lobbyist Jack Abramoff (Spacey). Abramoff uses his influence in the halls of power to accrue millions of dollars and create a modern-day empire for himself built with the money and influence his job brings.
Things begin to take a turn for the worse, however, when Abramoff's greed becomes part of the equation, leading him to nefarious dealings with the mob and illegal activity that would eventually lead to one of the biggest scandals in recent history.
Such a big story in American politics deserves a more reverent retelling than this film provides, but taken on its own merits Casino Jack is a fun, darkly comic story with Spacey as its figurehead. The Academy Award-winner is a joy to watch, being given the space and platform to combine his usual dry wit with a much bigger personality than the characters he usually plays. Ably supporting him is Pepper, playing Jack's partner Michael Scanlon, and Preston provides the heart as Jack's concerned wife, Pam. The overall light, tongue-in-cheek tone to the film belittles the actual seriousness of the real-life events, and those interested in what really happened may want to seek out the documentary by Alex Gibney, Casino Jack and the United States of Money. Nonetheless, a superb Spacey and Hickenlooper take a sensitive, and possibly quite provocative subject and retell it in a way that is entertaining and perhaps easier to reach for the not so politically inclined.