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Casino – Review

30 Jan

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.

Casino 3


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.

Casino Jack – Review

28 May

Every now and again, a movie is made that deeply criticizes our government and calls out those responsible for certain crimes and schemes. It makes me wonder just how great our “great nation” actually is. Casino Jack is one of these movies, and while I felt contempt towards the multiple characters in the film, I also laughed at the brilliant yet not always subtle satire.

Jack Abramoff (Kevin Spacey) was one of, if not the, most influential lobbyists in Washington, and he only gets bigger when his associate, Michael Scanlon (Barry Pepper), proposes the idea of cheating a Native American casino out of money. As their profits rise and another casino wants to make a deal, mistakes begin to be made when the bring pseudo-mobster Adam Kidan (Jon Lovitz) into the mix as a business partner. What comes next is Abramoff’s sharp decline in power and respect, ultimately ending his political career.

The choice to make this film into a comedy is a good choice. It keeps the mood light and the politics easy to understand, as long as you know a little bit about the government and its workings. Kevin  Spacey gives a realistic performance (no surprise there) and makes Abramoff almost sympathetic, which is not an easy task. I really enjoyed seeing Barry Pepper not play a soldier or a man stricken by the plight of war. I didn’t know exactly how he would be in a film like this, but he was really good. Jon Lovitz provided this film with its biggest laughs and stole every scene he was in.

When a movie makes you think, than it is doing something that  all movies should, but not all succeed in. When Casino Jack ended, I was really happy with it, but I was also confused and angry about how people, especially in positions of power, can so easily get away with schemes like the one that Abramoff was involved in. If our government can’t even control its lobbyists, who are in a strangely authentic position of power, than how can the people of the country know what is really going on behind the walls of the senate.

I’d like to see more films with the same style as Casino Jack, the dry comedic political satire. There were parts where the comedy reminded me of the comedy used in The Informant, which  was a movie only I seemed to really enjoy. It’s a good way of telling a complicated and potentially devastating story, as Jack Abramoff’s potential future in politics and possibly even his whole life is in shambles by the end of this movie. We never feel that same devastation because of the light hearted tone of the movie. This isn’t to say it’s never dramatic. Of course it is, but it never turns from a comedy to a straight on drama.

Casino Jack is not for everyone, as the mixed reviews from critics and audiences have come to show. If you have absolutely no interest in politics, then you would have no interest in this movie. The real kicker is that this is a true story, and not made up by some screen writer in his apartment. Sure its a dramatization and some of it is probably fictionalized, but the core of the story really happened. Casino Jack is a movie that will make you laugh, wonder, and criticize all at the same time.

On a side note, director George Hickenlooper, died before the movie could be released which to me is a really sad thing. Kudos to you Mr. Hickenlooper for making your last movie a really enjoyable one.