Cast: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Don Rickles, and Kevin Pollak
Director: Martin Scorsese
Martin Scorsese is known for his iconic mobster movies (Goodfellas, Mean Streets, Gangs of New York etc.) filled with violence, sexuality and profanity, yet Casino is the most unique and different out of all of Scorsese’s gangster works, and always cements his place as the best director in the genre — and within the top three directors in American film history.
Legendary film critic, Roger Ebert, was clearly a great admirer of Scorsese’s work (and it’s easy to see why). He gave this 90’s classic his highest rating of 4 stars, and while I agree with Roger’s points, I don’t believe it’s Scorsese’s best. However, it’s still a phenomenal film, filled with riveting storytelling and a stellar cast as always.
Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert De Niro) runs the fictional Tangiers casino in Las Vegas, Nevada. He’s successful, wealthy, and powerful, yet he’s up to his ears in corruption and illegality. He has no license – so he can’t actually operate the casino – and the only way he combats this is by changing his job title regularly to avoid suspicion. Friend, protector and mafia enforcer: Nicky (Joe Pesci) is undoubtedly unstable in the head, possibly psychopathic and constantly uneasy, so why not recruit him as your associate? Although that sounds like a ridiculous idea, Sam does it regardless. What then follows is a tale of deception, greed, violence and betrayal, sprinkled with a little romance on top.
Clocking in at almost 3-hours, Casino is one of Scorsese’s longest running films, and while it’s not exactly boring, it still does feel long and slow. But Scorsese is so fantastic at telling a story, that Casino remains a great entry into his catalogue of riveting and dramatic tales. However, Casino feels different simply because I don’t really consider it to be a barebones mafia film — because it isn’t a barebones mafia film. There is a lot more to it due to the inclusion of the casino sub plot and the romance sub plot. It just feels different, and that’s exactly why Casino works so well as a gritty and complex crime drama.
Robert De Niro is always fantastic under Scorsese’s direction. And there is no change in the trend with Casino, because De Niro is just as charismatic, just as cool, and just as legendary as he always is. His character works because of De Niro. He’s a staple of the genre and will always be known for his mafioso pictures. As his counterpart, Joe Pesci is just as maniacal as he was in Goodfellas, if not more… He’s just like a timebomb waiting to blow, and we as the audience never know when that’s going to happen, and because of that, Pesci has such an uneasy atmosphere around him. This really is expert acting from Pesci, yet the lingering memory of him as Tommy in Goodfellas still possibly outshines him as Nicky in Casino…
The pacing of Casino is quite effective. It’s very slow, but the story works well because of it’s speed — or lack of it. The third act is filled with tension and contains possibly the most violent scene Scorsese has ever directed (the cornfield scene). And because we care about the characters, the payoff and conclusion of the film works even better, and really has an emotional impact which stays with you for days after watching it; not to mention the satisfying ending.
The romance in the film is subtle enough to be untypical, but relevant enough to be significant. Sharon Stone is wonderful as Robert De Niro’s love interest. Ginger (her character) is a well-respected hustler and a despicably shallow gold digger. And Stone is absolutely fantastic in this role — especially in the third act where we see her character deteriorate in to what can only be explained as an acting phenomenon from Stone.
Ginger has possibly the most interesting character arc in the entire picture. Her development throughout the 3-hour runtime is simply magnificent due to Scorsese’s excellent direction. It really shows him at his everlasting peak, and looking at it from a filmmaking perspective, many directors simply wouldn’t have the ability nor the expertise to handle such a sensitive character, and depict such a complex story. And when you look at it like that, you really get grip on to why Martin Scorsese is arguably the greatest director to ever grace the silver screen.