Review by ckckred of Cinematic
Few directors, if any, can move a camera the way Martin Scorsese can. Scorsese is a filmmaker who has always exhibited incredible energy in his pictures, marking him as one of cinema’s greatest figures. In 1990, Scorsese delivered the decade’s best movie with GoodFellas, a film that defined an era of fast-action crime dramas. Five years later, Scorsese returned to the mob genre with Casino, but this time instead of examining the life of a young gangster in New York, Scorsese turns his eye to a high-profile mafia man based on Frank Rosenthal who ran a big casino in Las Vegas for a decade from 1973 to 1983.
Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is Casino’s central protagonist. Back in Chicago, Ace was a genius with numbers, allowing him to become an expert gambler. Impressed by his skills, the mafia hires Ace to run their casinos out in Las Vegas, where he could use his proficiency to help rake in millions for the mob.
For its first third of its three-hour screen time, Casino documents Ace’s job. Employing heavy narration, Ace tells the audience how he managed to quickly converted coins from the slot machines into bills to put into a suitcase that would be sent to a mob each week, or how he makes sure that every part of the casino is operating smoothly. If anyone attempts to interfere with Ace’s process, then he deals with it. After two men are caught cheating at blackjack, Ace has one of the man’s hands broken and lets the other one off for a warning. And that is far from being the most violent act Ace and his men commit.
However, Ace’s empire isn’t indestructible and two forces eventually come to bring about his fall. One of them is Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), an old friend of Ace’s who much like Tommy De Vito in GoodFellas is a ticking time bomb. He’s hot tempered and violent, setting off if anyone dare attack him (after being insulted in a bar by another mobster, Nicky stabs the man with his own pen). Nicky comes to Vegas to help Ace to help establish his authority. But Nicky’s violent streak eventually starts to deteriorate their friendship. The other obstacle is Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), a hooker who Ace falls in love with immediately, eventually marrying her. But Ginger’s overuse of drugs and alcohol soon leads to troubles in Ace’s life.
The comparisons to GoodFellas are inevitable. Casino was not only co-written by Nicholas Pileggi, who also did the screenplay for GoodFellas as well as the books both movies were based on, but contains the same tone. Like GoodFellas, Casino relies on stylistic tracking and steadicam shots to follow the characters around as well as utilizing a classic rock soundtrack. But Casino differentiates itself from GoodFellas through its slower pace and more expansive world. With Casino, Scorsese creates a large universe of violence and greed. He keeps a steadier pace to introduce the audience to the places and characters, giving Casino a similar feel to Francis Ford Coppola’s The Godfather.
As I watched Casino, I managed to embrace the wide cast of characters and soon began to love the picture. Casino may not be quite as original or groundbreaking as GoodFellas, but it’s a mighty and worthy follow-up that’s a masterpiece of action and suspense.