Casino directed by the great and powerful Martin Scorsese is a tale of greed, deception, money, power and murder occurring between two best friends; a mafia enforcer (Joe Pesci) and a casino executive (Robert De Niro). They take us into the inside world of casino gambling in Las Vegas, where we witness their rise and fall from positions of power.
The film begins with De Niro’s and Pesci’s characters (Sam Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, respectively) monologuing about their upbringings and how they got themselves involved in the casino business. Keep in mind that these two characters are no philanthropists or ordinary businessmen; they are gangsters brought to Las Vegas to manage the Tangiers casino, which is owned by some deadly mob bosses. Anyways, we spend the first 40 or so minutes learning about the inner workings of the casino business; how money is made and shipped to the mob bosses, how in-subordinate staff are “taken care of”, how politicians are bribed, and most importantly, who is in control of whom. This entire segment felt like a training session; as a viewer I got to know exactly the type of environment I was dealing with for the rest of the movie.
From this lengthy introduction to our characters and the business they run, we move onto exploring the main themes in this movie; money, greed, murder, deception etc. This was explored through a number of very interesting story arcs such as the breakdown of the friendship between Nicki (Joe Pesci) and Sam Rothstein (Robert de Niro) or the breakdown of Rothstein’s and Ginger McKenna’s (played by Sharon Stone) marriage. These story arcs were executed brilliantly through the tip-top performances of the three leads: De Niro, Pesci and Stone. Sharon Stone in particular deserves some recognition because her character literally encapsulated the breakdown of sanity as one immerses themselves into the booze and drug-fuelled scene of Las Vegas. Stone’s character was stunningly beautiful at the start but gradually deteriorated into an abusive, impulsive and manipulative heroin addict.
There aren’t too many aspects of Casino that I downright “hated”, although there are some areas of this film that could have been improved. Firstly, this movie is way too long (178 minutes). I have come to accept this as a consequence of it being directed by Martin Scorcese, but even so, there was a number of scenes that added no extra value to its appeal. There was also too many voice overs. I got mildly irritated by these as I felt that there was this voice in my head constantly bickering about their problems and how they got screwed over by the system. Lastly, Casino follows a formula. It is eerily similiar to other Scorcese movies in its fascination over italian-american gangsters, voice-overs, criminal male characters with short tempers whose prides ultimately become their downfall, FBI interventions, and gruesome violence/torture scenes involving household items.
In short, if you are a Scorcese fan you would probably see the negative aspects of this film that I mentioned as strengths, and I don’t blame you. Martin Scorcese has mastered the crime/mafia genre in film, and Casino is, by in large, another successful story of his. It features a fascinating introduction to the casino business, strong on-screen performances, and a well fleshed out storyline.