Martin Scorsese is the king of crime films. There have been others who made excellent contributions to the genre like Michael Mann, Brian DePalma, and Francis Ford Coppola, but Scorsese is the master. With films like Goodfellas and Mean Streets, it’s quite clear he knows how to craft this kind of film. Unfortunately for Casino, it is normally compared to and overshadowed by Goodfellas. I’m not going to compare the two, but speak about Casino on its own.
Sam Rothstein (Robert de Niro) is a sports handicapper for the mafia who is chosen by the bosses to run the Tangiers casino in Las Vegas. Everything appears to be going smoothly with both business and his personal like, especially after meeting a hustler named Ginger (Sharon Stone), but then his friend from back home comes to town. This friend is Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), an enforcer with a hot temper and dangerously violent outbursts. Nicky is soon banned from all of the casinos and goes into business for himself. What follows are the next decade of these three characters’ lives and how they go from the height of power and respect to sinking below where they ever were.
Casino is one of the most interesting films that I have ever seen, being in love with the whole Las Vegas scene. It’s great watching Ocean’s 11, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and Smokin’ Aces, but I never felt I got as much of an inside look as I did with Casino. There are times where I really felt like I was getting behind the scenes access, especially when they take the viewer to the back room in one awesome continuous take. Another excellent scene is when the camera jumps back and forth between the different casino floor workers and showing who was watching who. It makes me fully begin to comprehend all the work that goes into providing tourists with their dangerous vices.
I’d like to dedicate an entire paragraph solely to Sharon Stone, but I’ll try to be fair to the other actors. De Niro and Pesci were great, especially Pesci’s fast talking smart ass persona that everyone loves so much. He does some pretty terrible things to people in this movie, but strangely enough we are laughing right along with him through most of the ordeals. Maybe not during the “head in the vise” bit, but most times I found myself laughing. Sharon Stone, though. This is the performance of her career. Forget Basic Instinct. Her portrayal of a coked up hustler sleaze bag is absolutely incredible. She had to convince Scorsese she was right for the role, and thank goodness she did because her acting is impeccable. There was one point in the movie where I thought to myself, “This is one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.” I stand by that. I hated the character as a person, but loved Stone’s acting.
Scorsese was greatly inspired by classic film noir, like the under rated crime gem Force of Evil. Despite the bright colors of Vegas, this film is indeed a noir film, just a different sort of one. Casino is what you would call a “soleil noir”, which means it’s a bright noir as opposed to the high contrast shadowing of traditional noirs. All the pieces are in place for the genre. There’s a tragically flawed “hero”, a femme fatale, crime and mystery, and an interesting use of classic narration techniques. That’s one of the coolest parts of this film, the way Scorsese has the narration affected by what’s happening in the film. In one particular part, Pesci is narrating and in the actual scene he gets punched. When he gets punched, the narration abruptly cuts off. It’s awesome.
I feel like you shouldn’t compare Goodfellas to Casino, but it’s pretty hard not to. Both movies deal with the same sort of criminals getting into shady dealings that normally end in violence, but it’s pretty fair to say Goodfellas is Scorsese’s masterpiece. That being said, Casino is a fantastic crime epic that goes a lot further, both in content and execution, then a lot of other crime films. It’s deep story about friendship, betrayal, and the dangers of power, themes Scorsese has explored fully before. The movie may not break new ground thematically, but it is a great gangster flick that is well worth three hours of your time.