Casino * * * * 1/2

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Director: Martin Scorsese.
Screenplay: Nicholas Pileggi.
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods, Frank Vincent, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, L. Q. Jones, Dick Smothers, Melissa Prophet, John Bloom, Pasquale Cajano, Vinny Vella, Frankie Avalon.

Five years after delivering one the mob genre’s finest films in “GoodFellas“, director Martin Scorsese reunited with screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi and several of the same actors – mainly Robert DeNiro and Joe Pesci – to focus on another true-life crime story. This time he takes it away from the mean streets of New York and focuses on the deserts of Las Vegas. The results may be highly similar but they’re just as impressive.

Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) is a smooth and ambitious type that moves out to Las Vegas to become the operator of the Tangiers Casino. Things go well for him until his volatile childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) arrives to get in on the action and Sam falls in love with conniving, unbalanced and untrustworthy, showgirl Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone). Before long, a cycle of drugs and violence ensues while Sam struggles to hold onto his casino license and the mob back home are less than happy with the results.

The hallmarks of Scorsese’s style and structure – that were so prevalent in “GoodFellas” – are all on show again here. He has his usual reliable cast, delivering voiceover narrations that take us through the events and there is regular use of classic tracks from The Rolling Stones. His directorial techniques and are also on show; from flash-cuts to freeze-frames, crash zooms and montages. In other words, Scorsese is doing it all over again and it’s these very techniques and stylistic flourishes that have drawn some criticism Casino’s way for being too similar to his aforementioned crime classic. To some extent, I can understand these gripes. There is definitely a feeling of repetition and lack of originality in it’s approach. The most obvious comparison being the casting of Joe Pesci. As good as Pesci is (and he is very good) it may have served Scorsese better to cast someone else in that role. The character is too similar to Pesci’s Oscar winning Tommy DeVito. I’d liked to have seen (another Scorsese regular) Harvey Keitel, for example, just to mix things up a bit and he’s proven beforehand that he’s an actor that plays off DeNiro very well. That being said, there is an argument of ‘if it ain’t broke, dont fix it’. It does tread old ground and doesn’t really bring anything fresh to the table but it’s old ground that’s worth treading again. Where Scorsese does succeed, is in his casting of DeNiro. In “GoodFellas“, DeNiro was underused but here he delivers some solid work. He has a less showy role than those around him, making it easy to overlook just how effortless he is. He’s rarely offscreen for the entire 3 hours of the film and shows an absolutely commanding reservation. Other great inclusions in the cast are a weasel like James Woods and a surprisingly outstanding Sharon Stone. She takes a back seat in the early stages but when she properly enters the fray, she delivers a very powerful and layered performance and the convincing catalyst for the unravelling of the characters’ indulgent lifestyles. She was rightfully Oscar nominated for her work here and very unlucky not to win. It’s a testament to these committed performances and Scorsese’s expertise that this film still manages to stand alone as a very fine piece of cinema in it’s own right. Added to which, the lavish production design by Dante Ferretti and Robert Richardson’s sublime cinematography bring the whole glitz, glamour and corruption of Las Vegas to fruition.

An enthralling and intimate portrayal of the decline of the mob in the 1970’s. It may not be as tightly constructed as “GoodFellas” but how many film’s are or ever will be? If this is the only criticism that can be appointed to Casino then there’s no point criticising at all. Another superb addition to Scorsese’s canon.

Mark Walker

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41 Responses to “Casino * * * * 1/2”

  1. What? Not 5 stars??? LOL
    One of the best gangsta films ever made, right after Goodfellas and the Godfather.

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  2. It has the same look, style, and feel to Goodfellas, but it’s still a whole bunch of fun and very entertaining to watch. Also, when you have Pesci and De Niro; you can never go wrong. Good review Mark.

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    • Cheers Dan. It is very similar. No doubt about it. Pesci in particular looks like he just wandered off the set of Goodfellas bringing his copy of the script with him 😉 Still, it’s a great movie.

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  3. This is one of the few Scorsese films I haven’t seen. Love GoodFellas, and I should get around in seeing this, especially since I’ve been recommended it a few times. Nice review.

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  4. Goodfellas is a classic and I love it but there is something in Casino I enjoy a lil bit more. Great review.

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    • You’re not the first to say you enjoy Casino more Issy. That’s entirely acceptable and I can see why. Personally, I think Goodfellas is better, strictly because it tighter in it’s narrative. Thanks for commenting man.

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  5. EXCELLENT review! This isn’t my favorite De Niro of Scorsese. But De Niro is flat out brilliant in this one. There are slow moments but this features some really good storytelling.

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    • Haha! Great to hear it bro. DeNiro is so often overlooked in this film but he delivers some great work here. It’s one of his most unsung roles I believe. Excellent stuff.

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  6. No need for it to be compared to Goodfellas anymore, I dont think. When it first came out, it followed very closely on the heels of that one, so comparisons were unvoidable. Now, however, there’s little need to connect the dots. Many filmmakers make more than one movie with similar subject matter/themes…

    This is an awesome flick, no doubt about it.

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    • Yup, that’s a good point Fogs. It was quite close after the release of Goodfellas and a shame that it suffered comparisons. Over the years, it has proven to be a great standalone movie. Anyway, comparisons with Goodfellas is no bad thing really. I’m also a bit miffed that DeNiro often gets overlooked here. Pesci gets the juicy role again and Stone was rightly praised but DeNiro’s the one that holds it all together.

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  7. I saw this a few weeks ago. I’ll be giving it an A-minus.

    On Mon, Apr 8, 2013 at 9:38 AM, MARKED MOVIES

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  8. Wow, another great review of Casino. I really need to see this fairly soon. Glad to hear DeNiro was not underused here, now that’d be criminal 😀

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    • Haha. It would be criminal to underuse the great Bobby. 😉 Thing is, though, his commanding performance does get overlooked. Pesci and especially Stone chew up the screen but DeNiro let’s them get on with it which makes me respect his performance all the more. Hope you get a chance soon Ruth. Be aware that there are a couple of violent scenes, though.

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      • Ahah yeah, that head in a vice thing would certainly count. I’ll be sure to cover my eyes during those scenes 😀

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  9. Mark, personally I’d give Casino 3 1/2 stars and that’s still high praise but it’s not Scorsese’s very finest work. I consider Goodfellas a damn near perfect movie and Scorsese, along with Kubrick, as the finest American directors ever. Damn fine entertainment to be sure but Goodfellas had so much more humor and you kind of liked Henry Hill in a Tony Soprano way. Who in Casino were you rooting for? Also Goodfellas was so much more quotable and had so many great set pieces: The Copa steadycam shot, Billy Batts at the bar, “How am I Funny?”, Karen Hill with kids in tow: “Is this the superintendent?… Yes, sir, I would like you to know that you have a whore living in 2R. Rossi, Janice Rossi… He’s MY husband. Get your own goddamn man!!!”, a coked out Henry getting tailed by the cops in his Caddy to the sounds of The Stones and Nilsson, the crew introductions… Jimmy Two Times: “I’m gonna go get the papers, get the papers.”, Spider: “Hey why don’t you go f**k yourself Tommy?”… the gang in unison from the poker table “Ooohhh!”, Morrie’s Wigs commercial “Don’t have your hair come off a the wrong time.”, and the piece de resistance… Layla playing over the montage of the Lufthansa heist fallout… I could go on and on. Casino just wasn’t on that same level so only 3 1/2 stars. But what do I know? The second guy in this clip seemed to really dig Casino:

    Some other thoughts. In Casino I knew what I was getting with De Niro, Pesci and Scorsese but to my surprise Sharon Stone was really a standout in that movie. Her best role along with Basic Instinct. Great to see that “hockey puck” Rickles in a small role as the pit boss. A true legend. Come on… he was the only man who could actually make fun of Sinatra… and still live to talk about it. LOL.

    As far as comparisons… I can’t help it. Goodfellas, The Godfather I & II, The Long Good Friday are the gold standards that I hold other mob movies up to. I’d probably give the Departed 3 1/2 stars and Mean Streets 4 stars so that’s where I’m coming from. Capice?

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    • Haha! Capice, Dave. I get where your coming from and can’t argue with your list of Goodfellas attributes. That certainly is a more solid movie but I was actually rooting for DeNiro in Casino. It was really frustrating to see him fucked over so often by those he loved and his business spiralling out of control. I got the feeling that he was actually a half decent guy.
      Scorsese has definitely done better movies but i still hold this in high regard. A far as The Departed, I’d give that the same rating as this and Mean Streets is a classic for me. The latter being in my top three Scorsese movies after Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Thanks for the input as always Dave. 🙂

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      • I guess I wasn’t rooting for DeNiro because he kept Sharon Stone’s character, Ginger, around so long. It was hard to feel sorry for him after a while. He tried to control this con artist like everything else in his life and he basically caused his own misery. Same thing with keeping Nicky around. He was so out of controI the mob bosses had no choice but to whack him. Was DeNiro’s character tragic? Sure. I just couldn’t feel too bad for the poor sap.

        Maybe I’ll watch it again. I see Goodfellas once a year (as you can probably tell) and it’s been a while for Casino. And yeah I do hold Scorsese and Kubrick to a higher standard.

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      • You should give it another go Dave. I always find that Casino improves when you’ve a bit of distance from it.

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      • Makes sure to pop back in with your thoughts, man. Cheers Dave. Always a pleasure.

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  10. Great review, Mark. This is my favorite Scorsese movie. The 3 hours just flew by.

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  11. You know how much this film means to me, and Ill just add once again that I LOVE it 🙂

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  12. Superb review Mark. I’ve not actually seen Casino and it’s probably the biggest gap in my Scorsese knowledge. Keep meaning to check it out as I already know I’ll love it.

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  13. I remember seeing it in the movies, holiday vacation of my last year of college, and I loved it then; and all these years later, having watched it numerous times, I still love it now. I count Martin Scorsese among my favorite directors, and he certainly didn’t disappoint with this movie. I agree with your take, that while stylistically the film is similar to his gangster masterpiece “Goodfellas,” it doesn’t make “Casino” any less impressive. The cast was uniformly excellent and I have always enjoyed the work of character actor Frank Vincent, who can be seen in a multitude of gangster films as well as on “The Sopranos” in the role of Phil Leotardo. I had watched a film, a while back called “The Death Collector,” it is also known as “Family Enforcer.” I found it interesting to learn that Scorsese decided to cast both Pesci and Vincent in “Raging Bull” based on watching them in that film.

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    • Glad to hear you’re a fan also. It’s a fantastic film and unfairly criticised by some.
      Didn’t know that about the Pesci/Vincent movie. I’d never heard of that before. Thanks for the info and for dropping in. 🙂

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  14. LOVE this movie. My favorite movie by Scorsese and for me miles better than Goodfellas I really don’t mind the similarities, the resulting effect was much more interesting and compelling for me than GF. Glad you liked the movie and Stone’s performance, she was just sensational here.

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    • There are quite a few who consider it better than GoodFellas Sati and I certainly won’t argue. It is a very good film but I found that GoodFellas worked better for having a quicker pace. There were a few occasions where Casino dragged a little but this is a minuscule gripe. I still love it.
      Stone really was something else wasn’t she? I’d still have to say DeNiro was the top performer, though. He had a difficult and more subtle role to play.

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  15. Probably my second favorite performance by Stone.. a great cast and film all around.

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  16. Popcorn Nights Says:

    Great review Mark, and enjoyed looking through the comments below as well. I think it’s up there as one of the best films of the 90s, and think it’s a shame it always gets compared to Goodfellas. Brilliant performances right the way through, and as you point out De Niro is the glue that holds it all together. I’ll put this out there too – I think Pesci is more frightening in this one than he is in Goodfellas. There’s just an extra notch of evil in there, more calculating and less liable to momentary rage than Tommy De Vito. Missed it when it was on – I’m due a re-watch!

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    • Thank you sir. I can’t disagree with you here. DeNiro does hold it all together and you’re spot on about Pesci. He was more calculating here and showed a level of intelligence that Tommy DeVito didn’t have. Unfortunately, the comparisons with Goodfellas are inevitable but this does stand it’s own ground. Fantastic film.

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