1995 - R - 178 Mins.
|Director: Martin Scorsese|
|Producer: Barbara De Fina|
|Written By: Martin Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi|
|Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak |
|Review by: John Ulmer
“Casino," a visceral examination of the Mafia’s influence on the casinos of Las Vegas in the 1970s, is also the so-called “companion piece” to Martin Scorsese’s “GoodFellas” (1990). Both films star Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, and were written by Nicholas Pileggi.
Viewing the movie a decade after its release, it holds up well. The film’s strengths are its clear narrative and unflinching examination of its characters. Sam Rothstein (played by Robert De Niro) isn’t a nice guy, and never really gains our sympathy. Nicky (Pesci) occasionally exhibits acceptable behavior, but if the film has a villain, it’s him. And Ginger (Sharon Stone in the best role of her career) is selfish, spoiled and depressed.
Whether you will like “Casino” or not depends entirely on your tolerance for character-driven films and, of course, heavy violence. But “Casino” is closer to Scorsese’s older work than any of his other recent films. Whereas we followed Henry Hill’s journey from youth in “GoodFellas” and felt empathetic towards him, “Casino” drops us square in the middle of Sam’s story and there’s no warmup or introduction. This will either alienate or enthrall you.
Scorsese's movie exhibits recognizable elements – a whiz-bang style with quick-cuts, rapid zooms, a diverse pop-and-classical music soundtrack (with no less than four or five Rolling Stones songs), and of course, his famous tracking shots (here, he stages an impressive three-minute examination of a casino without breaking until we exit the front door). But “Casino” doesn’t confine itself to the restraints of Scorsese’s stylistic motifs. Here he goes hog wild with the visuals (more so than usual anyway), soaking up the vivid colors of Las Vegas, absorbing the dizzying array of flashing bulbs and tacky bright clothing.
Editor Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s long-time collaborator, experiments with digital editing for the first time here – and employs some new techniques that are subtle but make a subliminal impact. The title sequence, designed by Elaine and Saul Bass, is simultaneously dazzling and haunting.
The performances are almost flawless. De Niro is Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a legendary gambler who is chosen out of the blue to maintain a new casino for the Las Vegas Mafia. Sam explains the economics of the system – the mob take their cut of the profits, the rest goes where it should, and everyone remains happy – so long as nothing goes wrong.
When Ace’s old friend Nicky shows up in Vegas he begins to orchestrate a ring of violent robberies – becoming the new leader of a vicious gangster force that threatens to destroy Ace’s chances at cutting it straight. Since Nicky is a made man, and Ace is Jewish, he can’t stop him – but fears their new lifestyle will only lead to misery.
In the meantime Ace falls for the beautiful call girl Ginger (Stone), who doesn’t love Sam, but marries him for his wealth. Her heart really belongs to her ex-boyfriend/pimp (played by James Woods). At first Ace believes he can tame her into submission; but her free spirit ruins their lives and destroys Ace’s confidence.
The movie does have its blunders. Some scenes seem unnecessary, and Nicky’s violent attack with a pen does seem a bit reminiscent of an almost identical sequence in “GoodFellas” when Pesci attacks someone at a bar. And as enthralling and entertaining as “Casino” is, it never really matches the overall energetic exuberance of “GoodFellas” – they are, despite their close ties, very different films in a cinematic sense.
"Casino" never runs out of steam and its three hour running time flies by before you know it. Even if it's not the best mob movie ever made, it's still an incredibly engrossing one.