By Afra Nariman
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone
Showcasing Las Vegas in the 1970s, this film follows the exploits of gangster friends Sam “Ace” Rothstein (played by Robert De Niro) and his enforcer Nicky (played by Joe Pesci) as they navigate the dangerous, exciting world that was Vegas at the time. As Nicky put it; the town was made of money… and they wanted a piece of it. “Ace” was sent to by his bosses to oversee and help run a casino. He falls in love and marries Ginger (played by Sharon Stone). Nicky chose to eventually move out there and make a name for himself. The two find themselves slowly getting into more and more trouble in both their personal lives and their gangster lives.
Any time Martin Scorsese gets together with superstar duo Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci; you can expect a successful movie to come out of it. Just look at Raging Bull, Goodfellas and most recently, The Irishman. While Casino had its moments, and is overall a better-than-good film, it is a tier below Scorsese’s pantheon of great cinema that is highlighted by the other films that De Niro and Pesci worked on together. The film’s production was excellent. Scorsese’s unbelievable directional touch was all over it, the cinematography was beautifully fluid, the soundtrack, superb; and of course, a cast highlighted by De Niro, Pesci and the wonderful Sharon Stone, performed magnificently. But while the story was interesting and at times captivating, at other times, although not too frequently, it felt distant and void of significant substance. Additionally, much of the film felt like a see-saw between the “gangsters in Vegas” story and the love triangle between the three stars’ characters.
How the story is told is paramount to how a film is received. One extremely fascinating aspect of the film, that is of course Scorsese’s doing, is his classic use of a character narrating the story as it evolves. What makes this film unique in doing so though, is that both De Niro’s “Ace” and Pesci’s “Nicky” are each narrating their own respective side of the story throughout the entirety of the film. Each character definitely has their own story for much of the film, only to have their worlds slowly diverge as the overarching story develops; so hearing them both narrate made a lot of sense.
Casino, is in many ways reminiscent of the legendary trio’s previous masterpiece Goodfellas. But it doesn’t quite hit you the same way. I never really felt captivated enough by the film, or connected to the story and its characters. At times it feels a little too dragged out and has a few insubstantial parts to it. And during some parts of the first half of the film, the dialogue was overshadowed by the narrations as the main form of telling the story. It’s inconsistency in staying engaging enough led to an inability to reel me in and captivate me for long stretches of time, which is important in a three-hour film.
The film did a lot of great things as well, though. Similarly to Goodfellas, De Niro plays an ambitious, headstrong criminal gangster, and Pesci plays a violent, unpredictably predictable enforcer with a temper and his own agenda. Their evolving friendship, complicated by their own greedy interests and by Ginger’s role in the story, is the most engaging arch of the film. Through all three main characters, we see what money, greed, lust, crime and extravagance can do to relationships.
The film also did a solid job at keeping us engaged with what the events on the screen mean for the city of Las Vegas’s casino business, both then and now. Casino is a true story, and shows us the role that the mob had in the city’s progression and their role during the city’s peak years in the 1970s and early 1980s. At the end, through a last narrating monologue, we learn what the events of the film meant for Las Vegas, the mob, politicians and the Teamsters Union. The film’s element of outlining the history of an infamously extravagant city in America was impressively communicated.
Casino has its flaws; but highlighted by genius directing, unparalleled acting and wonderful camerawork, the film’s positives outweigh its minuscule flaws. It would’ve served the film well to condense the story just a bit; but regardless, Scorsese’s 1995 gangster film, although not in the same tier as some of his greatest films, such as Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, Goodfellas, and The DeParted; is definitely worth watching if you’re a fan of gangster films or Scorsese in general.