Combustible Celluloid
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With: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, John Bloom (Joe Bob Briggs), L.Q. Jones, Dick Smothers, Frank Vincent, Melissa Prophet
Written by: Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese, based on the book by Nicholas Pileggi
Directed by: Martin Scorsese
MPAA Rating: R for strong brutal violence, pervasive strong language, drug use and some sexuality
Running Time: 179
Date: 11/14/1995

Casino (1995)

4 Stars (out of 4)

In the Cards

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Garish, rhythmic and intoxicating, Martin Scorsese's Casino (1995) never really captured audiences or critics in quite the same way as did its predecessor, GoodFellas.

Scorsese found in the mid-90s that he could not please anyone; when he made The Age of Innocence, people complained that they wanted more films like GoodFellas. But when he obliged and made Casino, they complained that it was too much like GoodFellas.

Certainly with Nicholas Pileggi collaborating on the screenplay, it has a similar feel and a similar arc, but Casino is far more ambitious. Many of Scorsese's films deal with the idea that glamour and spectacle will always disappoint once you get underneath the façade, and Casino demonstrates that theme in spades.

This time, instead of a single protagonist, as with GoodFellas's Henry Hill, we have two of them, constantly butting heads. Both characters narrate their own sections of the film, which centers them both and strips away traditional assignments of good and evil; each believes that he is doing the right thing while the other is wrong.

Ace Rothstein (Robert De Niro) tries to run a successful casino; if he must break a few rules, he does so only if it attracts very little attention. His childhood pal, and "made" gangster, Nicky (Joe Pesci) sees Las Vegas more like the Wild West -- untamed territory. He begins threatening, robbing and cheating everyone in sight. Ace believes that Nicky jeopardizes his livelihood, but Ace has already brought trouble on himself by marrying the sexy hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone), who is still attached to her lowlife, scumbag boyfriend (James Woods).

Pileggi and Scorsese track these people's trajectory over an epic three hours; they set up the story, as in GoodFellas, with lots of juicy, fascinating details about Las Vegas's day-to-day operations and routines. Nobody films that stuff as excitingly as Scorsese.

Then, when we know the characters inside and out, who they are and what they do, the filmmakers pull the rug out and we're hooked.

Edited by the great Thelma Schoonmaker, Casino never stops moving, and Scorsese constantly packs the frame with odes to pizzazz and style. Early in the film, the shots are breathtaking, but later, they thin out and concentrate more on single color schemes. We come to learn that they are merely an empty façade for just another disappointing American life.

Fortunately for Scorsese, he never seems to tire of moving onto the next glamorous thing, never seems to come to grips with life's inevitable disappointment. In that, there's hope for us all.

In 2005, Universal re-released Casino on DVD for its 10th anniversary. I haven't seen the old disc, so I can't compare them, but this new one looks spectacular. Scorsese, Pileggi, Stone and others provide a sporadic commentary track on side one, and side two comes with several featurettes and deleted scenes.

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