IMDB #175 Casino

If I ever were to finish this countdown, one of the many benefits would be this: no one would ever look at me in disbelief and say "You've never seen [FILM]? I can't believe it!"

Which is my way of confessing that I've never seen Martin Scorsese's 1995 opus Casino nor (more damningly) its spiritual companion Goodfellas.

I know, I know- but that's why we're here: to learn. Today's lesson involves nearly three hours of f-bombs, brutal violence, oldschool Vegas opulence, and incessant voice-over.

The Key Players:

Scorsese is a name known to all, even fans of animated fish. His signature style, from Mean Streets to the Oscar-winning The Departed, is oft-imitated and disseminated, and we'll sadly not visit him again until four trips in the top 70.

Except for The Departed, all of Marty's breakthrough's involve fellow Italian-American Robert De Niro, whom he shepherded to a Lead Actor Oscar in Raging Bull. De Niro's an actor of range, but mostly he's used those collaborations and roles in The Godfather: Part II and Heat and the like to cultivate a tough guy image, which he's been mining for easy laughs (Analyze This and sequel, Meet The Parents and sequel...s) for the last decade and a half.

Like a shorter, squatter De Niro with less dignity, Joe Pesci would similarly trade Scorsese-bred mobster cred (Goodfellas, Raging Bull) for broad turns like getting hit in the face with a can of paint in Home Alone (and sequel!).

Sharon Stone's breakthrough early 90s roles in Totall Recall and Basic Instinct lead to typecasting as a femme fatale for the most part, though her part hear is more than mere hustler, and she would win a Golden Globe for her trouble.

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The Story:

I'm taking a pass on this one- there's nearly three hours of intricate organized crime relations that I had trouble keeping full track of, anyway.

Suffice it to say that De Niro plays Sam "Ace" Rothstein, the country's top handicapper who's tapped by the mob to run the Tangiers Casino in Vegas- in other words he makes sure the house always wins, and gives the powers that be their cut.

He falls for a hustler named Ginger (Stone)- they marry and have a child, but she's still hung up on her former grifter boyfriend, a lowlife played by James Woods.

Sam's troubles are further complicated by Nicky Santoro, his childhood friend and brutal mob enforcer. Initially sent by the bosses to make sure no one interferes with the Tangiers operation, Nicky quickly becomes the informal crimelord of Vegas, knocking over jewelry stores and banks, and burying anyone in his way in one of the holes in the desert.

Soon the two former friends are at odds, a coke-addled Ginger threatens to run away with Sam's daughter, and the FBI and no-longer tolerant local police are always one step from closing in.

The Artistry:

Casino begins with an engrossing enough hook- in 1983, we see De Niro get in to his car right before it explodes, and then we flashback to see what lead him to that point.

What follows is a long, long journey overrun with incessant voice-over, from both De Niro and Pesci, as if they're giving a DVD commentary on the scattered scenes we're presented with. At one point even a minor go-between played by Frank Vincent gets a minute of voice-over! What?

And it's not that it's always a bad device, but I didn't find it illuminating in the slightest- usually it's De Niro wondering if he can trust his slickster wife (he can't), or compounding on the intricacies of the midwest-based crime syndicates running the show in Vegas (which comes through just as well in conversation).

The acting is memorable, at least in the second half when these characters get to define themselves without a voice-over telling us what they're already like- in a reversal of Raging Bull, Pesci plays the psychotic hair-trigger while De Niro just wants to live the straight life.

The politics of the gaming commission, the FBI, and the mob are intriguing to a point, but the pace tends to wander- a clear influence of co-screenwriter Nicholad Pileggi's original novel's basis in real life. Fascinating, for sure, but that doesn't help me out in the watching.

And I'm afraid I can't comment on the supposed shocking violence, having been thoroughly desensitized. Maybe if I'd seen Casino when it came out, and I was 11.


It all comes crumbling down- Rothstein is pushed out of his position by the gaming commission, a midwest lackey is overheard on a wire detailing nearly the entire casino scam. As the mob bosses face trial, they order hits on pretty much every loose end.

After beginning an ill-advised affair with Ginger, it's implied that Nicky is the one who rigs Sam's car to explode- but due to a unique design in the floorplate, Sam survives with minor burns and scrapes.

For the violation of protocol (the affair being worse in mob-terms than the failed hit), Nicky is beaten to death by his own crew in an Iowa cornfield. Ginger runs off with the money and jewels set aside for her (but without her daughter) and eventually ODs.

And Sam Rothstein moves to San Diego a simple sports handicapper, bemoaning the new, tourist-y Vegas that's replaced the cut-throat old one.


Overall: Should It Be Higher, Lower?

It might be sacreligous to say lower, but here we are. I'm probably being unfair to Scorsese in general, because so much of what he does well he does so well that I take it for granted- rapid editing, a killer soundtrack, clean cinematography. But the sprawling, laconic story of Casino just never drew me in- it leaned to heavy on narration early and too heavy on histronics late.

The Legacy:

Apart from Stone's Globe win and Oscar nomination, Marty would be Globe-nominated as well. Otherwise it's had a middling legacy so far- and point of fact, no one's ever been shocked that I hadn't seen it yet. It was just a good hook to start with (plus Goodfellas comes up a lot).

The Best Video Of It On YouTube:

A Pesci/De Niro desert conrontation, recast with Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street. Ah, YouTube.

Leftover Thoughts:

-To be honest, no one's ever said "You haven't seen Casino to me in an incredulous tone. Number one movie that did come up was Goonies until I finally saw it a couple of years ago.

Coming Up...

174. The Grapes Of Wrath

173. El Secreto De Sus Ojos

172. How TO Train Your Dragon

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