Directed by: Martin Scorsese
Written by: Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese
Starring: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak
When working in illicit business, several high points will materialize and you better enjoy them, as surely it will all come crumbling down. It’s the lesson of every single movie involving the mob. Some tell them better than others, and films like Casino display the apex this film genre can produce due to its stellar cast and a director firing on all cylinders.
Sent from Chicago to Las Vegas to run a casino owned by mob bosses, Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) runs a tight ship and doubles the profits of his superiors. He gets romantically involved with the alluring Ginger (Sharon Stone) and receives a nice surprise in the arrival of his childhood friend Nicky (Joe Pesci), who’s sent to be an enforcer.
Quickly-paced and filled with what everyone can expect from a Martin Scorsese, Robert De Niro, and Joe Pesci team-up, Casino brings the heat to the desert. It matches the intensity of Goodfellas but takes the business idea to the city of sin, Las Vegas. The job is simple for Sam; he just needs to run a casino as a cover for the mob’s money-laundering and play nice with the locals. While he brings big success, the story of this film ultimately shows how hubris and inflexibility bring down each of the main characters. For Sam, it comes in the form of creating this perfect image of his persona and how he wants things his way. In order to have things his way, he will force others to change. Some play along with the charade while others force his hand and begin to make things a bit more difficult.
No one can get the best of Robert De Niro more than Martin Scorsese, and once again he sets up the field for this firecracker performance by the acting legend. He takes center stage and pulls this film along, as he introduces the audience to this world where gambling becomes the game and violence will be utilized to maintain order. As with many of his roles, De Niro brings such a physicality to Rothstein where he just looks dangerous and speaks in such a threatening manner. Even compliments seem like an underhanded threat. He becomes someone you do not want to mess with unless you’re Joe Pesci.
Watching Joe Pesci act is such a treat and he has some fun with the character of Nicky Santoro. He utilizes the same foul-mouthed and violent bravado he utilized in Goodfellas but revved it up a bit more. The introduction of Nicky into the story presents an interesting ordeal for Sam, as the arrival brings his past into his present. Nicky and Sam had a different style of operating back on the east coast, which will not fly in Vegas. Sam becomes aware of it and adapts properly while Nicky forces everyone else to modify to his standards. Pesci and De Niro as a combination has never disappointed and once again they bounce off of each other for the better.
Serving as another wild card with Nicky is Ginger portrayed by Sharon Stone. Ginger lives by her own rules and refuses to settle down until she meets Sam. Even with moments where Sam wants to trust her, she gives nothing but more evidence to the contrary. Sharon Stone brings forth this character in the way only she can and she stands out as the best performer. Ginger shifts and truly contains a variety of layers to her, as she gets everything she seemingly wants but remains unsatisfied with the prospects her life has given her. She becomes the crown jewel to Sam’s empire while also being the constant thorn to his side. Her rise and fall as a character match the trajectory of the two men, which gives her equal footing with the major theme of this feature.
The hubris of each of these characters ultimately determines their fate. When working in conjunction with one another, the three of them thrive, but when selfish thinking takes hold, they each begin to crumble, which changes Las Vegas for good. Sam has his way of operating but does not fully acquiesce to the political landscape he has entered. Instead of taking one on the chin and doing what’s best for his future, he chooses vanity. The same occurs with Nicky and his rough style of interacting with others.
Martin Scorsese never disappoints as a director and experiencing Casino came as a surprise. I’ve heard so much about it and knew of its incredible cast but the slick style of this feature definitely caught me by surprise. Scorsese merges his sensibilities of mob stories and adapts to this new world of Las Vegas. With the legendary director basing many of his stories on the east coast, him taking on a story in a different region showed the director facing the same battle Sam and Nicky encountered within the narrative.
Power corrupts and brings out the worst in people, which occurs in this thrilling and fast-paced feature film. It brings the world of mobs into Las Vegas and shows what people will overlook if they get the opportunity to hold some semblance of power. Each main and side character gets exposed for their true intentions and their downfall all come from the same vice, which has taken down many powerful people.