Casino: Another Martin Scorsese Epic

Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in Casino. Courtesy of Universal.

Casino is an epic crime drama that marked the ninth collaboration between filmmaker Martin Scorsese and actor Robert De Niro. The film has been remastered for Blu-ray some four years and change after the 4K Ultra HD release in 2019.

Scorsese also reteams with Nicholas Pileggi after the pair had written Goodfellas together. This time around, the adapt another one of the author’s book, setting the film in 1973. A number of the names were changed for the film. Anyway, Pileggi was drawn to a story connecting the Mob with the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. At this point in his career, Scorsese thought it was a good idea to revisit the Goodfellas world but on a bigger scale. Interestingly, it was only after announcing the film that Pileggi was able to finish interviews for his book. It makes for a fascinating way to adapt a book into film when the book is mostly in outline form at the time, very far from finished. The film would obviously make changes from the book but still keeping the basic narrative.

Sharon Stone’s performance would earn the film its only Oscar nomination. The film completely missed out on guild nominations, which seems rare for a high-profile Scorsese picture. Some of the wins at the 68th Academy Awards did not age well but my thoughts on that would be better off in a non-film review.

Martin Scorsese opens up about the film being a metaphor in the After the Filming featurette (beautifully produced by Laurent Bouzereau):

“Ultimately, there’s never enough in Vegas in the 70s in this film. That’s what the main impulse was about. Never enough for anybody. And that’s also the idea of Casino as a kind of metaphor for Hollywood, too. Making bigger pictures flashier, flashier. Pour hundreds of millions of dollars…so the (inaudible) gonna explode and the bottom’s gonna fall right out. You have to continue the nature of cinema in a different way, ultimately, in America, I think, unless it will split forever between the gigantic budgeted pictures, which are at times very well done. All the techniques are quite extraordinary. Some are done much better than others, of course, but can’t take much chance at the box office because you need a lot of money.”

Listening to Scorsese make this comments for the 2005 home video release is rather interesting. I say this in light of his comments made since the rise of “theme park movies.” One of the comments that I didn’t quote are his thoughts on what younger filmmakers are doing with a lower budget. What happens when you give those filmmakers a larger budget? Well, it usually means that they’re working in the Marvel or Star Wars playground. Or in Colin Trevorrow’s instance, he got to pave the future of Jurassic Park with the Jurassic World trilogy.

I’m not going to dive too much into the film’s plot. After all, we’re talking about a three-hour film dealing with ambition, passion, and greed led to the fall of an empire in Las Vegas. The Chicago Outfit tasks Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) with overseeing operations at the Tangiers Casino. Overall, the film is about Sam’s dealings with every aspect of the job while interacting with his childhood friend and current mob enforcer, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci). Meanwhile, Sam falls in love with and marries Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone). All the while, the climate in Vegas is changing as the Feds get involved. The film ultimately ends in the mid-1980s, which is not surprising for a Scorsese epic. And that’s that.

I think De Niro is a great actor and there’s no denying his history with Scorsese. The two have a way of making movie magic together but De Niro is just not the right actor to be playing Sam Rothstein. Rothstein, of course, is a portrayal of Lefty Rosenthal. It’s another classic example of Hollywood casting a non-Jewish actor in an explicitly Jewish role. Over 25 years later, there have been many conversations taking place about authentic representation in film. Unfortunately, many of these conversations conveniently ignore Hollywood’s systemic of casting non-Jews as Jews. If Hollywood wants to do a better job, the industry needs to take representation more seriously when it comes to Jews. I have no shortage of thoughts about this and will continue to speak out about it.

If you’re a comedy fan, it’ll surprised you to see how the film uses Don Rickles in a way that goes against type. Scorsese has him play drama even as the comedian is making people laugh off camera. All that is to say, it’s interesting to see Rickles playing a role where he is not being the insult comic that he is. Rickles is not the only Jewish comedian in the cast as both Alan King and Kevin Pollak are also in the film.

Voiceovers play a key role in the film’s narrative. This is honestly to the film’s advantage, what with its nearly three-hour run time. If it’s not De Niro talking over the picture, it’s Joe Pesci. And then, we manage to stray from the course with Frank Vincent delivering the voiceover. How about that?!?

Behind the scenes, Scorsese works with a number of regulars in helping to establish the film’s look. Among them, cinematographer Robert Richardson, who I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with over Zoom. Richardson has a way of making the costume design look even more impressive with the framing and lighting. Meanwhile, one of the impressive shots is our first look at Las Vegas through an overhead shot. But anyway, this is a city with bright lights on the Las Vegas Strip. The production design itself is rather impressive in terms of the sets.

I haven’t watched as many Scorsese films in a short amount of time but between this and Mean Streets, it’s interesting to see how they use music in his films. The soundtrack itself is rather impressive with a lot of music. One of the interesting choices, however, is Devo’s cover of “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” rather than The Rolling Stones version.

Casino is another solid epic for Martin Scorsese but it doesn’t feel like it is ever at the same level as his masterpiece works.

Bonus Features

  • Deleted Scenes
  • Moments with Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone, Nicholas Pileggi and More
  • Casino: The Story
  • Casino: The Cast and Characters
  • Casino: The Look
  • Casino: After the Filming
  • Vegas and the Mob
  • History Alive: True Crime Authors – Casino with Nicholas Pileggi

DIRECTOR: Martin Scorsese
SCREENWRITERS: Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese
CAST: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, James Woods, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, L.Q Jones, Dick Smothers, Frank Vincent, John Bloom

Universal released Casino in theaters on November 22, 1995. Grade: 3.5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.