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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 24.43%
Average: 13.74%
Pretty Bad: 6.87%
Total Crap: 7.63%

5 reviews, 101 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Powerhouse Scorsese epic."
5 stars

What few people know about Martin Scorsese is that he has never made a gangster film. No, really. 'Mean Streets' wasn't about gangsters, it was about Catholic guilt. 'GoodFellas' wasn't about gangsters, it was about the American dream as seen in a cracked mirror.

Casino isn't about gangsters, either. Taken together, these films (all set largely in the '70s, when Scorsese came to prominence) form a trilogy of rise-and-fall stories, lovingly crafted and intricately detailed, addressing all the key American themes: money, sex, power, love, death, religion, family, above all ambition -- the hot desire to move up, move out, move ahead. (Scorsese's camera expresses the motion of motivation.) Casino, a true epic, pulls it all together and yet leaves us with chilling food for thought about what it all means. The movie is about business. There's business, and then there's everything else. Eventually there is nothing else.

Scorsese is working again with Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote GoodFellas based on his fascinating piece of journalism Wiseguy. After GoodFellas, Pileggi threw himself into researching the web of mob connections in Las Vegas; his work yielded a book and now this script. Pileggi lets his subjects talk in their own voices, with little authorial intrusion, and both GoodFellas and Casino are densely journalistic. The characters narrate while Scorsese's images underline (and sometimes contradict) their words. At one point he even provides subtitles translating the code phrases they use to foil the feds. People talk and talk about how Vegas works, and Scorsese's camera sprints to keep up. He's like an energetic tour guide making sure we understand everything.

Casino revolves around two hollow men. Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro), a bookie with a scientific genius for picking winners, positions himself as the boss of the mob-run Tangiers hotel. Ace is cool and rational and shrewd -- the perfect man to oversee a casino, because he knows it's in his best financial interests to keep the mob bosses back home happy, and the bosses know he won't get stupid about the fortunes rolling in. He dresses flamboyantly, in a variety of dandyish pastels ranging from peach to pistachio, but under the suits he's perhaps the most unflamboyant man Scorsese has ever put on the screen. Ace's opposite number, and boyhood buddy, is Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), who comes out to Vegas looking to carve himself a niche. Nicky offers his services as Ace's unofficial muscle, and quickly gains a rep as a mercurial sociopath. Ace may shake his head at Nicky's savagery, but Nicky is great advertising: To mess with Ace is to mess with Nicky, and you don't want to mess with Nicky.

Scorsese knows these guys; he's comfortable with them. But every director has an Achilles heel, and Scorsese's has always been women. He can see them only from the outside, and the third leg of Casino is weak. Ginger (Sharon Stone), the glamorous hustler whom Ace marries and Nicky has an affair with, has no visible inner life. De Niro narrates, Pesci narrates, even Frank Vincent (as Nicky's right-hand man) gets to narrate a quick anecdote, but Stone never gets a turn. That's a shame, because this is Stone's breakthrough performance -- vibrant, alive, operatic in its extremes of mink-fur bliss and bottom-dog torment -- all the more so because she's working against a script that barely bothers to humanize her. Ginger is the wild card, the untrustworthy junkie bitch who brings chaos into the boys' club. Ace, usually the epitome of caution, throws caution to the wind and falls deeply in love with her, or so we're told; we don't really understand why. (The book isn't much help either.)

Luckily for Scorsese, Casino doesn't rest its full weight on this ill-starred love triangle (or it would collapse). Its real meat is the tragic theme of the hothead prevailing (with disastrous results) over the cooler head, a Biblical theme (think of Cain and Abel) that links the movie with Mean Streets and GoodFellas. Ace keeps his pulse steady unless something threatens his bottom line: an incompetent slots manager, an inattentive cook in the casino kitchen. (One of the funniest moments in the entire Scorsese portfolio to date occurs here when we get to watch Robert De Niro going ballistic over the amount of blueberry in a muffin.) Nicky, on the other hand, is a back-home street thug with his eyes on the prize. Power to him means being feared. He doesn't use his head, and after a while the bosses back home start to wonder if he's worth the trouble. Joe Pesci may seem to have already gotten an Oscar for this performance, but Nicky is different from his other psycho, Tommy, in GoodFellas. Tommy had fun being a hard-ass -- that was what made him scary -- but Nicky, mesmerized by the gold in the desert, doesn't have much fun. Money is serious. The more you have, the more you have to worry about losing it.

Even by Scorsese standards, the violence in Casino is exceptionally harsh. There's not as much of it, and the brutality is parcelled out over three hours, but when it happens, it's always uniquely grotesque, rage-filled, almost intimate; there are at least three scenes that make the notorious Billy Batts pistol-whipping in GoodFellas look nearly serene. Part of what makes the savagery here so haunting is that there's no Henry Hill looking on in horror; nobody looks on in horror. To the extent that ghastly beatings and stabbings keep things moving smoothly, it's tolerated. By the time someone ends up betrayed in the middle of a corn field, beaten beyond recognition and buried alive in the desert, the cruelty has the sting of Greek tragedy.

The men in Casino have calcified far beyond the Ray Liotta character in GoodFellas, who got off on the sensual pleasures of being a hot-shot. These Vegas men, lured long ago by the siren song of money, have long since crashed on the rocks. Ace derives no pleasure from his grandly successful casino or even from his family. De Niro plays his one note skillfully, sometimes introducing a second note -- Ace's conflicted feelings for Ginger, which bring out a frightened vulnerability De Niro hasn't shown in a while. But ultimately only one thing matters to Ace, and it's not until he loses everything that he is restored to himself: he goes back to picking winners. It's a classic Scorsese finish -- redemption by self-destruction. Casino has been criticized for being cold, and unfairly compared with GoodFellas, as if the collaboration of De Niro, Pesci, and Scorsese made it an unofficial sequel. Scorsese takes risks based on the nature of his material. Love and honor mean nothing in this movie because in Vegas, nothing means anything except money.

As Michael Corleone said, "It's not personal. It's strictly business." 'Casino' is Scorsese's personal epic about business, and he seals it with a devastating joke. The mob loses its grip on Vegas, and at the end, we see the new casinos -- shining castles built by corporations, the mob of the future.

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originally posted: 01/28/07 06:31:27
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User Comments

2/13/17 morris campbell very good even if its goodfellas goes 2 vegas and it stick close to the real story on which 4 stars
5/27/16 stephen a masterwork 5 stars
6/04/15 stanley welles deft, visually impressive and admirably performed 4 stars
9/11/11 Captain00Kirk A 3 hour-version of Goodfellas, I'm in! 5 stars
3/03/11 chris c Kinda of a retread of Goodfellas with De Niro and Pesci but ultimately rewarding 4 stars
2/26/11 Jeff Wilder Great overall even if half an hour shoulda been shaved off. 4 stars
2/10/11 nigger whipper fuck the niggers 5 stars
11/03/10 Mark O. Avery Pesci & DeNiro Score again!!! 5 stars
9/24/10 Flathead King Not bad but well below Scorsese's best. 3 stars
4/11/09 Dane Youssef Almost a dream state. The world's most insight look at the universe's most fascinating city 5 stars
2/24/09 brian Scorsese's best crime film, with more objectivity than he's used to 4 stars
1/05/09 matt one of the best movies ever, incendiary, brilliant script 5 stars
3/05/08 ladavies Nobody can tell a better gangster story than Scorsese. 5 stars
2/02/08 Quigley Good acting and direction, but it was too much of a Goodfellas imitation to be acceptable 3 stars
11/20/07 Wendell O. Maness True story, but Civella was a wimp, chickenshit old man 3 stars
7/28/07 theresa Aldrich 3 hours of pure genius! 5 stars
7/23/07 Terry Departed is ripoff of a better Hong Kong film. At least Casino is more original. 4 stars
6/24/07 Bitchflaps Scorcese had been here before with Goodfellas, and Goodfellas was average. 1 stars
4/27/07 Double M One of Scorsese's best. everything is just great. 5 stars
2/15/07 I Gluck Great movie, great cast...Pesci is top notch 5 stars
2/14/07 action movie fan too long and tedious the departed was a good deal better 2 stars
2/13/07 The chode Awesome Movie. 5 stars
10/10/06 Jan A classic!!! 5 stars
10/09/06 Bugsy Last and great Scorsese film. Departed sucked. 5 stars
8/21/06 Sepi53 Great cast! Joe Pesci, De Niro and above all SHARON 5 stars
7/25/06 Sandy + Stephanie (twins) very nice 4 stars
5/23/06 Agent Sands A great Scorsese epic. No one can top Pesci's gangster charisma. 5 stars
5/06/06 dionwr Good but not great Scorsese 4 stars
5/02/06 Ryan_A Haven't seen all of it. 3 stars
5/02/06 William Goss Still haven't seen it. 4 stars
5/02/06 David Cornelius Gets better with repeat viewings 5 stars
5/02/06 HBS-SH cards with the kgb 5 stars
3/18/06 MP Bartley Nastier than Goodfellas...but not better. 4 stars
2/27/06 matt they don't make em like this anymore 5 stars
1/05/06 John Dog Great movie. 5 stars
12/27/05 Monday Morning Great until S.Stone entered the pic...then it gummed up a bit. 4 stars
11/20/05 Phil M. Aficionado Sciortino sez: "..ex-boyfriend (Don Rickles).."; No, James Woods. Great film, esp S. Stone 5 stars
10/16/05 Moctezuma Though not as good as Goodfellas, it's still pretty great 5 stars
10/05/05 Jesse Taylor One of the finest films of the 90's 5 stars
9/29/05 Michael Blower Next to the Godfather trilogy and Goodfellas this is the daddy! 5 stars
9/27/05 Anthony G Highly entertaining, I didn't move for three hours! 5 stars
8/18/05 Indrid Cold Some surprisingly disturbing violence, but a good story to support it. 4 stars
7/03/05 jimmy better than goodfellas 5 stars
6/13/05 Agent Sands For a 3-hour movie, it sure doesn't seem that long. 5 stars
3/16/05 Pete fraud good movie. a little bit long 4 stars
2/22/05 Captain Craig The best gangster-Vegas movie you will ever see 5 stars
1/27/05 Jeff Anderson About as great as GOODFELLAS and THATS saying something! Amazing production design & acting 5 stars
12/02/04 Carly Austin Robert de Niro in one of the most understated, underrated performances of all time. 5 stars
11/24/04 Geoff My 2nd favorite Scorsese movie behind Raging Bull 5 stars
11/21/04 Kristina Williams Sharon Stone's best work 5 stars
10/23/04 UMER i don't know why it is one of the most underrated movies of all time 5 stars
5/30/04 king eric top quality film. pesci kicks ass 5 stars
2/21/04 your worst goddamn nightmare cool flick; narration reminded me of Goodfellas... and that's a good thing! 5 stars
9/23/03 jack after i saw this movie it made me go hit my friend in the teeth with a baseball bat 5 stars
7/21/03 AD underated masterpeice 5 stars
7/20/03 john_cord Very damn good film. No Goodfellas or Raging Bull or Taxi Driver but riveting nevertheless. 5 stars
7/02/03 jackass if its too graphic then dont watch it ya wacky prick:P 5 stars
5/13/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back, Mo'fos!!!) De Niro, Pesci, & Scorsese should've won every award there is for this. Good soundtrack, 2! 5 stars
4/17/03 Jon "Thumb the Toad" Lyrik Superb. 5 stars
3/22/03 GMan A good movie. Goodfellas is better. Sharon Stone sucks ass. DeNiro kicks ass. 3 stars
2/23/03 jennifer carter awesome flick 5 stars
1/23/03 Pinkline Jones Good film - swearing overload though 4 stars
12/30/02 Femme_Fataleaa Very dissapointing...thought these heavy hitters could bring the heat! 2 stars
12/28/02 Charles Tatum No one addresses how frickin' long this thing is 3 stars
12/28/02 Jack Sommersby A 3rd-rate version of the 2nd-rate Goodfellas 1 stars
10/16/02 Monster W. Kung Great. Violence is occasionally too graphic, but it's still an excellent film. 5 stars
8/25/02 Turkish if u hav got the patience for long movies, you gotta see this shit man 5 stars
7/27/02 sdjfsdkjf get over the comparisons with goodfellas, it gets old. Not as bad as ppl make out. 4 stars
6/22/02 R.W. Welch Nothing really wrong here but it's mostly familiar stuff. 4 stars
11/29/01 The $1.98 Pyramid Perfect in every way. 5 stars
8/09/01 E-Funk Feels like a Goodfellas re-visit, but it stands out as another great Scorsese film. 5 stars
3/19/01 Michael Nicholls It's true i tell u! It;'s my life story on celluloid! 5 stars
2/17/01 MagdaM I have seen this film and I think it is very good film 5 stars
10/27/00 Jackie Townsend It was okay, but needed plot development 4 stars
9/08/00 Terrie Smith A lot like "Goodfellas" but not nearly as good. Pesci very boring. 3 stars
8/05/00 Elvisfan A rare Scorsese failure; by now its all been done by him, better too 3 stars
7/10/00 Tim In many ways a rehash of "Goodfellas", but still worth a look because of the sets & fashion 3 stars
6/24/00 Crystal Fleming Held my interest the entire time. Good acting. 5 stars
1/14/00 Fuck Yeah!! The cleverest,wittiest,most thought provoking movie ever!Right up there with Goodfellas!! 5 stars
11/12/99 jj fgf 1 stars
9/25/99 alyssa Wish Scorcese made more pix. 5 stars
9/03/99 Elizaveta I am fucking scared of the mafia. Did Joe Pesci and little bro really have to die that way! 4 stars
6/30/99 Popa Chulo Almost hard to watch. Fuck is said 362 times, eyeballs are popped out of heads. It was good 4 stars
6/28/99 Chris Gianaras Great movie even though it recycled everything from GoodFellas. 5 stars
6/14/99 Dylan Scorcese does it again. De Niro and Stone are fantastic. 5 stars
4/23/99 lucas jackson This movie was a great display of the underworld in casinos 4 stars
3/15/99 little jerry Goodfellas is more flashy but also more annoying.I suspect this will stay with me longer. 4 stars
3/07/99 davebo Great movie overall but lets face it, its no Goodfellas 4 stars
11/28/98 Mr.Pink Has it's laws, but still impressive overall. 4 stars
11/25/98 Fred Stone almost became an actress. I wish I could stab some dick in the neck & get away w/ it. 5 stars
11/07/98 grunter 1 image remains: a dead Pesci being buried in his underpants: big Scorsese misstep 2 stars
11/05/98 Bad Kosh De Niro and Pesci rule, mobsters owning a casino... but lacking. 3 stars
10/27/98 Silent Rob Just misses a 'F.A.' If you liked 'Goodfellas', here's more..... 4 stars
10/25/98 Lord Of The Dunce Sharon Stone is sad. She's such a coffee table. 3 stars
10/07/98 Maegs More pretty pictures. Not a big Stone fan, but she was better than usual 4 stars
10/01/98 Melissa De Niro is really cool! This movie is a must see for the family. 5 stars
9/20/98 {{{OZ}}} Lost a star for Pesci, another for Stone. 3 stars
9/19/98 J-Guy *really good, but really long. maybe too long. but really good. loses a star for length.* 4 stars
9/17/98 Bbanks2908 Fucking awesome De Niro and Pesci at there best 5 stars
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  22-Nov-1995 (R)
  DVD: 17-Jan-2006

  23-Feb-1996 (18)

  07-Mar-1996 (R)

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