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USA 1995
Directed by
Martin Scorsese
178 minutes
Rated MA

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
3.5 stars


Martin Scorsese effectively revisits his critical and commercial hit Goodfellas (1990), re-teaming with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci and showering them with glitz. Adapted from Nicholas Pileggi's fact-based book, "Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas" (Pileggi's 'Wise Guys' had been the source of Goodfellas and he and Scorsese co-wrote the screenplay for both films), Casino tells in flashback the story of Chicago wise guys, Sam (De Niro) and Nicky (Pesci) and their rise and fall in pre-corporatised Las Vegas.

It is a film that is regularly highly placed in the Scorsese canon, but whilst as a production it is undeniably top drawer in every department, showing the director at his meritricious best some may baulk at its application to such brutish subject matter. Much like the earlier film, it is relentless in pacing and for much of the first hour depending narratively on Sam and Nicky's tag-team voice-over narration, which is in the relation to direct dialogue somewhere in the order of 4 to 1. Robert Richardson's camera roves ceaselessly and the trans-generational soundtrack changes like a hyper-ventilating juke-box as Scorsese creates the we-were-so-much-younger-then, we're-wiser-than-that-now cinematic equivalent to the verbal recollections of his two main protagonists.  We whip through fabulously gaudy sets and outrageous wardrobe choices (De Niro's colour-coordinated pimp attire is wonderful) while people get bludgeoned and whacked by Nicky.

Relieving the thuggery is the sub-plot involving Sam's girlfriend, Ginger (Sharon Stone) and her former pimp (James Woods). Although Woods' Lester is little more than a cipher, when in the middle section of the film Scorsese focusses on Ginger's part of the story, Stone gives her all and the depiction of her troubled relationship with Sam is not only the best part of the film but one of the best snapshots of a marriage falling to bits that there is on screen. De Niro is atypically restrained but typically impressive and Pesci reprises his foul-mouthed sociopathic character from Goodfellas.

Casino is, depictions of mindless violence aside, a beguiling cinematic package but even though the film engages our sympathies more as it progresses and Sam's life unravels, as is so often the case with Scorsese, the director tends to overwhelm the dramatic content with his showmanship. The result leaves us in no doubt that we have seen the work of a master craftsman (although there are a couple of apparent flaws - towards the end of the film a distraught Ginger rams Sam's car multiple times but in the next scene there is no damage to her car and when later Sam's car gets blown up it is broad daylight yet when he is lifted into the ambulance it is night-time) but although the hard and flashy style suits the subject matter it still leaves us with a lot of surface relative to its moments of depth. Whilst getting such proportions right is a big call for a gangster movie with this one Scorsese gets part of the way there but not far enough to make it a true classic.

FYI: The mother and daughter of Artie Piscano, the guy who sinks the Mob with his bunglings, is played by Scorsese's own mother (she also appeared in Goodfellas) and daughter.




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