Casino (1995)

‘No one stays at the top forever’

Directed by:
Martin Scorsese

Written by:
Nicholas Pileggi (book and screenplay)
Martin Scorsese (screenplay)

Robert De Niro (Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein), Sharon Stone (Ginger McKenna), Joe Pesci (Nicky Santoro), James Woods (Lester Diamond), Frank Vincent (Frank Marino), Pasquale Cajano (Remo Gaggi), Kevin Pollak (Phillip Green), Don Rickles (Billy Sherbert), Vinny Vella (Artie Piscano), Alan King (Andy Stone)

With Casino, director Martin Scorsese has made another powerful statement about the gangster lifestyle, but like its setting Las Vegas, it is way flashier than its New York based predecessor GoodFellas. Scorsese regular Robert De Niro portrays Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, an overly serious professional gambler, who is sent to Las Vegas by the Midwest Mafia to run the Tangiers Casino. This task is handled superbly by control freak Rothstein (“an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin”), but as Rothstein’s protector, gangster Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) explains in voice-over: “In the end, we fucked it all up”.

It is easy to see why Scorsese wanted to tell this real-life story, written by Nicholas Pileggi (who also wrote the book Wiseguy on which GoodFellas is based). There is some real poetry in this tale of greed and power. Rothstein, who plays every bet as safe as possible, takes a real chance by marrying the unstable hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone). He also miraculously survives an attempt on his life by an amazing coincidence. Two very interesting occurrences for a man who doesn’t believe in luck.

Visually, Scorsese takes Casino further than any of his previous movies. There are loads of terrific shots and camera moves. The fifty million dollar budget is well spent on beautiful seventies Vegas settings and to portray Rothstein’s and Ginger’s flamboyant lifestyle. The greed of this desert city is also visualised in what must be the largest amount of dollar shots in cinema history.

Pesci delivers a chilling performance as a psychopathic mobster. His Nicky Santoro is less of a loose cannon than his Tommy De Vito from GoodFellas, but he’s possibly even scarier and more violent. No surprise then, that Santoro is the biggest contributor to the extremely harsh violence Casino portrays. The infamous vice and baseball bat scenes are very unpleasant to look at, but many of the other killings are repellent and nasty as well.

Stone’s Ginger brings some balance to the business oriented and almost documentary-style story of the Mafia’s Las Vegas. Although some scenes of her drug problems and failing marriage with Rothstein feel repetitious, they are never dull. Stone, like De Niro, delivers a flawless performance. Some minor flaws don’t detract from Casino’s status as an absolute gangster classic.


NICKY SANTORO: “You called my friends a faggot? You told him to go fuck himself? Is that what you did? You told him to go fuck himself? You fuckin’ hick! You fuckin’ hick you! Come here!”

Among other Las Vegas regulars, veteran comedy headliners Alan King, Don Rickles, and Dick Smothers appear in major, non-comedic roles.

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