Thursday, January 24, 2008


In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit right here and now that I tend to place Martin Scorsese up on a pedestal and view him as being head and shoulders above every other director, nay, every other PERSON, on the planet, be they living or dead. That said, Casino isn’t really one of his best movies, though it is one of the best for sheer entertainment value.

The film follows the rise and fall of the mob in Vegas, centering on Robert DeNiro as “Ace” Rothstein, an expert betmaker who’s placed in charge of the Tangiers with the sole purpose of ensuring it made as much money as possible so that his mob bosses back east can skim off as much money as possible. It seems like a perfect system at first, until our three “heroes” – DeNiro, Joe Pesci, and Sharon Stone – all begin to self-destruct together. Pesci is a childhood friend of DeNiro’s that’s sent out there to help him in his work, but is such a loose cannon that he quickly begins attracting way too much attention from the law. Stone is a money pilfering con artist that DeNiro falls for, but who doesn’t want to let go of her shady past, and eventually turns to drugs as a way of dealing with everything. In the dreamworld Vegas of the film, both of these problems seem handleable. The unpardonable sin, however, comes from DeNiro himself, who becomes so intent on ensuring the perfection of his casino that he fires an incompetent worker who’s related to a gaming commissioner, bringing a kind of hell on himself that seems to be even more important than the cops.

The film is just exhilarating to watch. It doesn’t quite have the depth of such classics as Taxi Driver or The Last Temptation of Christ, but that’s really not the point of the film. What he’s doing here is just trying to have as much fun with the basic material as he can, almost making a parody of gangster films (a genre that, with Mean Streets and Goodfellas, he’s one of the premiere directors of). The film is often extremely funny, particularly with the constant stream of voice-overs from DeNiro, Pesci, and several other characters that get caught up in the act. He’s not even afraid to “cheat” a bit with his narrative – I won’t spoil how for anyone reading this who hasn’t seen it yet, but anyone who’s seen it knows what I mean – and it results in a moment that’s simultaneously surprising, funny, and tragic.

It’s a bit lengthy, as Scorsese’s films always tend to be, but there is not a boring moment to be found in it. He lined up a great cast (Stone in particular gives what is likely the best performance of her career) and let them all go crazy together. As his pure fun movies go, it’s not quite on the same level as The King of Comedy or Cape Fear, but it’s slightly ahead of The Departed, which is not a bad place to be. Go check this out if you haven’t.

Rating: *** ½

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