Released: November 22, 1995
Running time: 2h 58m
Released: November 22, 1995
This 1995 movie was part of a one-two Mafia movie punch, the first being 1990’s GoodFellas. Together they formed the everlasting face of serious crime movies, with Casino contributing a stunning performance from leads Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone and Joe Pesci. Their spiralling tale of corruption and fragile glamour is captured with authentic grit by Scorsese, as he established himself as the kingpin of crime films.
Casino is the second movie by Scorsese to be based on a book by Nicholas Pileggi. The tale gains authenticity from both the writer’s journalistic foundations and Scorsese’s insight into the Italian American gangster culture. Set in the 70s with suitable decorum and décor, the tale follows a mobster called Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, played by De Niro, who gets asked to manage Mob interests at the fictional Tangiers Casino. There follows a rollercoaster trajectory, with highs of money, glamour and power and lows of crime, violence and obsession. Scorsese captures the intoxication of organised crime and the rewards it brings alongside the inevitable collapse that such a volatile world, built on fragile glamour, engenders.
This movie captures the essence of Vegas; shiny lights masking a seedy world of greed. The characters in Casino gain more than they perhaps should and lose as much as they deserve. The Mafia presence in the casino alludes to the wider world; a shining system underpinned by violence and greed. Scorsese gives a glimpse into this world, peeking behind the curtain. Typical to Scorsese’s filmmaking, the violence is shocking and visceral, but always measured and authentic. He shows the highs just as well as the lows, with one iconic shot being the overhead of Sharon Stone throwing her chips into the air; a wanton display of materialistic joy that serves as a key moment in the movie and has been reproduced countless times since. Stone’s performance is widely celebrated in Casino, where she effortlessly portrays the beautiful eye of the storm.
The film starts with keen foreshadowing, showing Ace as the victim of a car bombing, a startling opener which sets the tone for the rest of the movie. The tale of how he came to such a pass is then delivered through a mixture of kiss-and-tell inside facts about how the Mafia skimmed huge sums of money from the casinos and Ace’s entanglement with Ginger McKenna, Sharon Stone’s femme fatale escort. The inside peek into the way that casino games could be skimmed is fascinating, going into detail about the practicalities of it in a carefree, bravura fashion but without ever becoming boring or feeling like a documentary. This wealth of information sets a solid foundation for the awful following storyline of misguided love and capricious loyalty.
Joe Pesci plays Nicky, inhabiting a similar role as in GoodFellas, as a dangerous killer who presents both an unpredictable quantity for our main protagonist and acts as an occasional foil. His performance is brusque and jarring, in the best possible way; every moment that he’s on screen, you’re waiting for something to go wrong. Scorsese captures this fickle Mafia world perfectly in his depiction of Vegas, which is perhaps the film’s true main character as it takes the cast in and spits them back out.
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