Screenplay : Nicholas Pileggi and Martin Scorsese (based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi)
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1995
Stars : Robert De Niro (Sam "Ace" Rothstein), Sharon Stone (Ginger McKenna), Joe Pesci (Nicky Santoro), James Woods (Lester Diamond), Don Rickles (Billy Sherbert), Alan King (Andy Stone), Kevin Pollak (Phillip Green)
Martin Scorsese is the most enthralling, intense and dedicated director working in film today. His thorough control of the filmmaking art is apparent on every level.
He has also proven himself to be versatile, with a wide range of films that include intense social commentary ("Taxi Driver"), controversial religious explorations ("The Last Temptation of Christ"), and even delicate period pictures ("Age of Innocence"). Casino marks Scorseses return to the gangster film, the genre he proved to be best adapted to with films such as "Mean Streets" and "GoodFellas." "Casino" is a sprawling underworld epic, brutal, vulgar, and stunning; at its best, it is uncompromised, powerhouse filmmaking, one of the best films of the year.
Scorseses films are brilliant not only because of his proficiency, but because he surrounds himself with the finest talent the industry has to offer. "Casino" boasts a stellar cast, headed by Robert De Niro in his eighth collaboration with Scorsese.
De Niro plays Sam "Ace" Rothstein, a professional gambler who is hand-chosen by the mob to run the largest casino in Las Vegas during its heyday in the 1970s. His acting here is on par with his Oscar-winning performance in another Scorsese film, "Raging Bull." Joe Pesci is superb as Nicky Santoro, Rothstein's childhood mobster friend who has disturbing views of what Las Vegas has to offer. Pesci is unruly, sinister and threatening, very reminiscent of his role in "GoodFellas." Sharon Stone finally proves she is a serious actress with her role as the greedy, self-absorbed hustler Ginger McKenna who marries Rothstein and ends up being part of his eventual downfall.
The excellence on the screen is matched only by the excellence behind the cameras. Long-time Oliver Stone collaborator Robert Richardson directs the cinematography with complete precision, capturing every nuance and detail of the Las Vegas landscape, both within the neon-flooded city streets as well as outside in the emptiness of the surrounding desert. Production designer Dante Ferretti, whose work on "Age of Innocence" garnered him an Oscar nomination, puts together huge, elaborate sets of Las Vegas that are absolutely pouring forth with rich colors and neon vibrancy, symbolizing the power and money that pervades everything that goes on there. The editing by Thelma Schoonmaker, who won an Oscar for her work on "Raging Bull," is tight and coherent, keeping the complexities of the three-hour film understandable and fluid.
The first hour is the high point of the film, with its dual narrative, multi-layered introduction to both the characters and Las Vegas itself, which is a world of its own. One of the strengths of "Casino" is that it takes the audience behind closed doors, deep into a netherworld they would normally never see. As the film points out in the closing moments, Las Vegas today is more like Disneyland than anything else. But, during the 60s and 70s, it was a bastion of sin and greed, where dreams were either realized or crushed, but always at a high price. Money is everything there, and Scorsese drives the point home by continually focusing on huge wads of cash and endless buckets of quarters.
With "Casino," Martin Scorsese once again proves that he is the master of American cinema. Some might find criticism in the fact that he has tread this ground before in previous films, but when he makes them this well, its hard to argue.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat