Casino (1995): Familiar Ground for Scorsese, But Still a Special Film
Martin Scorsese has made a living of retelling outrageous, true stories surrounding flawed characters and their connections with less than reputable characters. Casino, Scorsese’s eighth team-up with Robert De Niro, depicts a truly burdensome time at a casino which is definitely more strenuous than playing online blackjack in the comfort of your home while all cozy in your pajamas. At least now you can easily learn the rules of the game in safe, relaxed environment rather than getting your head beat in by an angry Joe Pesci. But does Casino stand among Scorsese’s best films? The following review will be spoiler free.
Casino movie is directed by the aforementioned Martin Scorsese and stars his usual crew of actors including Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci with Sharon Stone in a supporting role. We follow Sam Rothstein (De Niro) who is the head of the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. Scorsese exposes the inner workings of crime that takes place at the casino as Rothstein has very close ties to Nicky Santoro (Pesci), a well-known mob boss. While Rothstein loosely follows the rules (keyword loosely) to rise to the top, those around him, including Nicky and his wife Ginger (Stone), begin to show what the corrupt underbelly of Las Vegas can do to a person, forcing the FBI to come knocking.
It’s no secret that Scorsese is master craftsman of quality films. His skills have no signs of depleting any time soon, as his last film, Silence (of which you can read my full review here) was met with very, very high praise as it showed his deeper, mature side.
However, what we all know Scorsese from his epic tales of highly flawed, but engaging characters that ascend into super stardom only to fall flat on their faces years down the road. These types of Scorsese films always seem to clock in around a three-hour run time. However, the stories and characters are so well thought out and integral to the story that the entirety of the story is necessary.
Long films are not necessarily a bad thing. But, most directors make silly decisions that uselessly pad the length of the movie, making the film as a whole feel bloated while making even the most patient of moviegoers start to fidget in their seats. Scorsese knows exactly what the story needs so that your attention is always on the screen.
What I Liked
One could make the argument that Scorsese and De Niro may be the best director-actor pair we have ever seen. Casino does nothing but solidify this statement. Scorsese just knows how to get the best out of De Niro, allowing his charisma and bravura to shine mightily as Sam Rothstein.
Like many of his other films, Scorsese utilizes a ton of voice-over to enhance moments in his film. This device allows for the highly talented actors that he works with to give a little wink or a nod but also be able to completely express their character’s motivations with limited dialogue. De Niro has always been a pro at facial acting which makes it even more of an intelligent maneuver by Scorsese to let De Niro flex his muscles without delivering forced dialogue to round out his character.
What I Liked…Continued
From a technical perspective, Casino fires on all cylinders. Scorsese knows exactly what camera tricks to utilize to capture the correct feel for each scene. When Pesci and one of his henchman get into a quick talking argument, Scorsese snaps the camera back and forth to add to the frenetic nature. Sometimes, people are having a nice relaxing chat and Scorsese slowly moves the camera from character to character or keeps it steady, providing a laid-back extra sense to each moment.
Scorsese may be the best in the industry at choosing songs to augment scenes in his film. Adding a popular song can make or break the tone of a film. If it doesn’t quite match up with the dialogue or speed of the movements, then the scene could be a disaster. However, Scorsese chooses ideal fits every single time. His affection for The Rolling Stones comes in handy with every single bare-knuckle beating that takes place.
If you haven’t figured it out already, Scorsese it a pro in every sense of the word.
What I Didn’t Like
Casino can be characterized as a safe bet for Scorsese. Casino doesn’t really do anything new that challenges Scorsese (or anyone else involved) artistically. There’s Italians, hitmen, drugs, basically everything needed for a Martin Scorsese toolkit. Every bit of Casino is fully entertaining, but you think that someone who had just come off of filming Goodfellas only a few short years beforehand would try something new.
What I Liked…Continued…Continued
But let’s face it. Casino is way too enthralling to write off as a Goodfellas wannabe. Watching as Pesci slowly becomes more and more unhinged over time as he becomes blacklisted by all the casinos in Las Vegas is thrilling stuff. As the film’s major plot points slowly unravel, you realize there’s a raw nature about it that works very well. Sure, it glamorizes the lives of low-lives and thugs, but, realistically, that’s how the men of whom Casino’s story is based off of probably felt during their criminal conquests.
Casino then masterfully exposes the demons that each character possesses while keeping the entire movie fun. That’s certainly feat in of itself.
Does Casino have similarities to Goodfellas and other Scorsese films? Of course it does. But that doesn’t change the fact that Casino is an all-timer with memorable characters that have helped it stand the test of time since its release in 1995. It gets an A. Do yourself a favor and block out a good chunk of time to watch Casino if you haven’t done so already.
But is it one of Scorsese’s best films? That’s hard to say considering the filmography we’re dealing with here, but it’s certainly in the conversation.
Thanks for reading! Have you seen Casino? Comment down below with your thoughts.
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