Martin Scorsese’s Casino isn’t as polished as his previous mafia masterpiece Goodfellas, but it is, nevertheless, another extraordinary entry into the director’s astonishing body of work. Relying heavily on voice-over narration from both of its stars, the movie is a little sluggish in spots, making its running time of 178 minutes its most glaring flaw. However, the captivating performances of the three lead performers and the unrelenting violence overshadow enough of the film’s minor flaws to make for a gritty, realistic experience of life in Las Vegas.

Scorsese regular Robert De Niro stars as Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a gambling perfectionist who is hired by the Chicago Mob to run the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. Joe Pesci, in another psychopathic performance, co-stars as Rothstein’s longtime friend Nicky Santoro, who is also sent to Vegas by the Chicago boys to keep the peace. After a very successful start in Vegas, Rothstein meets, and eventually marries, Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone).

Ace starts his inevitable decline just about the time he convinces Ginger to marry him. Ginger isn’t totally committed, and is in fact still seeing an old pimp (James Woods), while Ace is forced to trust Ginger with his life. This turns out to be his critical mistake as Ginger spends his money about as quickly as Ace steals the cash.

While dealing with the Ginger fiasco, Ace also has to deal with his hot-head friend Nicky. By consistently cheating in the casino, Nicky puts himself in danger of not only being black booked, but also of tarnishing Ace’s name. The friendship of the two men eventually decline over time as the power of greed effortlessly stars to control their lives.

I cannot say enough about these three lead performances. Pesci gives a performance that is on par, if not better, than his Oscar-winning turn in Goodfellas. De Niro gives another controlled, almost mechanical performance. Even though it seems so effortless for him, the audience is still captivated. And then there is Sharon Stone playing the former call girl, drug-addict wife of a crooked casino manager. It a loaded character, and a loaded performance, but they come together perfectly.

So much of the movie is built on the scenes of confrontation between the main characters, and they are done to perfection. The movie is about greed, lying, deceit, and double-crossing the people you are closest to. There are bound to be multiple scenes of altercation, and if they weren’t done right, the movie would’ve lost a lot of steam. One scene in particular comes to mind of an argument between Ace and Nicky. The scene I’m thinking of features Pesci in a polished suit and De Niro in a striped robe (his wardrobe is unbelievable in the film – in a good way), and I was in disbelief while watching the quarrel. The scene had to go on for about five mintues, and I’m sure a lot of the dialogue was improvised. The two actors, reminiscent of their roles in Goodfellas, are so perfectly cast that this brilliant scene seems so natural.

The movie is filled with moments that remind us how polished of a filmmaker Scorsese is, and how polished his lead actors are. Some might argue that the main flaw of this movie is that it is almost a recreation of Goodfellas…Well, there is some truth to that, but that doesn’t mean that after I finished this film I wasn’t wishing for more of the same.


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