Thursday, March 28, 2013

Casino

By Sati. Thursday, March 28, 2013 , , , , , , , ,
There is a certain problem one has to deal with while reviewing movies you absolutely adore. Instead of writing about them, you should just watch them again. But since I said I'll review Casino for RorschachReviews and on the odd chance there are those out there who haven't seen that splendid movie and I have the opportunity to encourage them to do so, I shall now review one of my all time favorite films. And I'll probably see it again afterwards.

For me Casino is the best movie directed by Martin Scorsese. I know a lot of people whine about the fact it's allegedly incredibly similar to Goodfellas, but... so what? Can't two movies share similar themes, feature the same actors and be incredible? I enjoy Casino much more than Goodfellas - I've seen the latter three times and the former? Probably close to 20. It has been in my top 15 ever since I've seen it years ago and I don't think it will ever leave its place.
Casino is based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Nicholas Pileggi, who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Scorsese. The two previously collaborated on Goodfellas. Hence, the similarities. The film follows Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro), who is sent to Las Vegas by his Mafia bosses to run the Teamsters-funded Tangiers Casino on behalf of several Midwest Mob families. Ace proves to be fantastic at what he does - he soon makes the name for himself and he runs casino like no one else can. Soon, however, two very different people enter his life and they will change it forever.

Ace's old pal Nicky (Joe Pesci) arrives with big dreams - he wants to be the first real gangster in Vegas, rob, steal, take whatever he can. He is violent and ruthless and he wants to use his connection to Ace in order to get involved in casino business. Soon, Nicky becomes well known around town and he becomes more and more dangerous with each day. As he grows more powerful he clashes with Ace, who appears to want to run clean business (or at least as clean as it is possible, given his connections and the nature of the endeavor) while Nicky is interested in getting more power, with no regard for the law.
Around the same time Ace meets Ginger (Sharon Stone, in one of my all-time favorite performances), who is a well-known hustler in casinos. He instantly falls in love with her, though he knows Ginger is a gold-digger and not the kind of girl that was made to be married and lead exemplary family life. She agrees to marry him and soon their relationship becomes corrupted - Ginger is unwilling of letting go of her old ways and she is insistent on helping out her old pimp Lester Diamond (James Woods) and Ace finds it increasingly difficult to trust her.

Soon Ace finds himself walking on a thin line - with the authorities looking closely at his casino, Nicky objecting to everything he does and Ginger slowly spinning out of control and falling deeper and deeper into hopeless alcohol and drug addiction, everything he built for himself and everything he is becomes threatened.
The research for Casino began when screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi read a report from the Las Vegas Sun in 1980 about a domestic argument between Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, a casino figure and his wife, Geri McGee, a former topless dancer. This gave him an idea to focus on a new book about the true story of mob infringement in Las Vegas during the 1970s. He based the character of Ace on Rosenthal and incorporated his complicated and toxic marriage into the story.

Scorsese expressed interest in the project, calling this an "idea of success, no limits". Although Pileggi was keen to release the book and then concentrate on a film adaptation, Scorsese encouraged him to "reverse the order".  Real-life characters such as Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, Geri, Anthony Spilotro and his brother were reshaped. Some characters were combined, and parts of the story were set in Las Vegas instead of Chicago. In the effect the entirety of the movie feels more condensed and it gave the creators the opportunity to truly immerse the audience in Vegas ambiance.
According to Scorsese, the initial opening sequence was to feature the main character, Sam Rothstein, fighting with his wife, Ginger, on the lawn of their house. Since the scene was too detailed, they changed the sequence to show the explosion of Sam's car and his flying into the air before hovering over the flames in slow motion—like a soul about to go straight down to hell. And this is exactly what that journey is - what appears to be paradise quickly changes into the place of evil and overwhelming greed.

Though Casino has some basis in truth it is pure entertainment first and foremost. Though it runs almost for 3 hours, it never let's go - you are completely glued to the screen. The film pulls you in this fascinating world of money, greed, lust and danger and you are completely caught up in this story, with its three incredible main players. Though not one of them is especially likable or easy to relate to, for a strange reason you care for them. Why is this reason strange? Because it's a good story. And the stories we see on screen nowadays are rarely as good as this one.
There are two central conflicts pushing the plot forward - one between Ace and Nicky and the other between Ace and Ginger. Nicky and Ace come from the same place but they have different approaches to Vegas. Nicky is violent and he impulsively takes what he wants, while Ace wants to proceed in cautious manner. Though many scenes with them are filled with tension and you fully realize Nicky can have Ace killed at any moment, there is an amazing amount of humour in the movie.

It's all because of the splendid script and the actors' outstanding performances - Pesci has this uncanny ability of shouting out lines with the speed of the machine gun while De Niro's restraint way of underplaying his character gives even funnier effect - he is standing there while Pesci is just yelling at him and he can't even throw one word back at him. The desert scene will never fail to make me laugh. Add to that the countless monologues Nicky has and the fact he is constantly throwing hilarious insults - the fact that physically Pesci is so non-threatening yet his character is hilarious and so menacing at the same time is just mind-blowing.
De Niro created one of his finest performances here - his Ace is not an easy main character to like. He has his flaws - he is very methodical and meticulous, he doesn't let anything pass him by and in  more ways than one he is a control freak. When he tries to apply his work ethics to his marriage he only pushes away his wife further. Yet it's hard not to sympathize with him as in comparison to Nicky he doesn't use unspeakable violence and many times in the movie we see him as a good guy.

Those are mainly the scenes where he is shown to deeply care about his little daughter and the ones where he genuinely worries about Ginger. Before their brief love turned into eternal hatred and contempt, Ace wanted to help Ginger when she started to drink too much. Unfortunately, pretty soon there was just too much distance and resentment between them and he didn't care for her anymore. The only times she could melted his heart by then was when he was reminded of the girl he once loved and the fact that she is the mother of his child.
It's actually also the case with Pesci's Nicky - what I appreciate about that movie is that Nicky is not depicted as some common psychopath, though the awfulness of the acts of violence he uses would easily help to categorize him as such. Casino doesn't let you do that. Yes, Nicky slaps his wife at one occasion for something that was rather trivial but she smiles as if it was no big deal. This is patriarch family-model in play and both him and Ace want to be married to women who do what they want. While Nicky's wife does just that and appears to be genuinely happy about it, Ginger sure as hell won't.

But they are family men and there is nothing wrong with that. We even get to see the scene depicting that Nicky is a wonderful father - he is there every day to make breakfast for his son. He is involved in his life, always there when his son is in a school play or plays baseball game. He loves his family and he loves Ace, who is like a brother to him. You can see how hurt Nicky is when Ace doesn't pay attention to him after they had falling up.

While De Niro and Pesci are simply brilliant and they would be more than capable of carrying the movie, their performances are not my favorite here. The cast is great, everyone is great but for me it's Sharon Stone who stole the spotlight. Jamie Lee Curtis, Madonna, Nicole Kidman, Cameron Diaz, Jodie Foster and Michelle Pfeiffer were considered for the role of Ginger. Traci Lords was seriously considered after an excellent audition. Sean Young turned down the role due to pregnancy. Melanie Griffith was almost cast, but Sharon Stone convinced director Martin Scorsese to give her the role.

And thank God for it. If it wasn't her the only actress who I think would handle that role was Michelle Pfeiffer (her character in Scarface is a slight variation of Ginger, though more posh and less damaged). Stone is splendid in her work here - fun-loving, determined and gorgeous survivor at first and than destroyed woman who will lie, cheat and fuck as much as she has to in order to stay above the water. Though it's not what the movie is about I found the portrayal of addiction to be horrifying here - Ginger, overwhelmed by her situation and feeling like a hostage, chooses the path of no return.
Stone gave whatever she could here - not just her talent but also her comfort - she spent many long workdays in agony while filming scenes for this film. She has back trouble due to an old injury, and the gold & white beaded gown she wears during a casino scene weighed 45 pounds. That is the dress she is wearing in one of the film's best scenes, when Ace sees her for the first time and falls for her. She is absolutely stunning in her first scenes and I adored her outfits - that right there was the splendor of old Vegas. Then Ginger, though still beautiful, became completely unscrupulous and in the effect she lost the part of her that Ace fell in love with.

The film has done amazing job at showing that though opposites attract they should stay away from each other under certain circumstances. It's fine when two people are different but if the differences lie in their personalities, values, upbringing and temper there is a slim chance the relationship between them will work. Especially when there is already someone or something in their lives they love more than the person they choose to commit to. For Ace it was his job and for Ginger it was her freedom.
She can't commit to him, because she refuses to abandon the parts of her life she grew to love. He can't trust her. She lies to him more and more and whenever he catches her on a lie, his response is taking away her freedom, piece by piece. In the end there is only hatred left. I don't know if De Niro and Stone were amicable towards each other on the set but the scenes where they argue and fight are some of the best in the movie. Especially the scene where they are "trying to make things work" but Ace has had it at that point ("You are a good actress you know that? Good fucking actress.").

I know a lot of people find Ginger to be one of the most despicable on-screen wives. I always felt for her. She had a rough life and when she finally caught a lucky break it turned out to be a trap. She did some terrible things but by then she was so addicted to anything that helped her forget her situation she probably wasn't even capable of thinking straight. There are many frames in the film beautifully portraying her solitude.
This review is already obscenely long, but I have to mention James Woods. When he heard that Martin Scorsese was interested in working with him, Woods called Scorsese's office and left the following message: "Any time, any place, any part, any fee."  I'm so happy Scorsese cast Woods in the role of Lester, Ginger's old pimp boyfriend, because that was just a perfect choice. Woods totally held his own here and though he is not on screen for long his role is very memorable.

As with other Scorsese movies the soundtrack is incredible here - we hear signature Gimme Shelter and few other songs from Stones. The music and the editing helps frame the story and makes some of the moments unforgettable, for me it was especially the brilliant use of House of the Rising Sun. The film has a number of famous scenes - the pen killing, the vice scene and he ditch scene near the end. Many say it's incredibly violent but I found it to be suitable for the story.
My advice is - if you haven't seen his one, do so. It's worth it despite its long run time and violent scenes.You won't be bored for a second and you are going to see one of these perfect films - brilliantly directed, written and put together. The performances of De Niro, Pesci and Stone are among the best in their careers and the film is filled with brilliant and quotable lines.

Casino (1995, 178 min)
Plot: Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, mobsters who move to Las Vegas to make their mark, live and work in this paradoxical world. Ace is the smooth operator of the Tangiers casino, while Nicky is his boyhood friend and tough strongman, robbing and shaking down the locals. However, they each have a tragic flaw--Ace falls in love with a hustler, Ginger, and Nicky falls into an ever-deepening spiral of drugs and violence.
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writers: Nicholas Pileggi
Stars: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci

RELATED POSTS: 
 

35 comments:

  1. Wow, that's some score and an excellent review! This is one of those films that is an embarrassing gap in my film watching and one of the few major Scorsese films I haven't seen.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! It's really fantastic, there are so many great things here but the performances and the writing are the best aspects of the movie, I hope you will get to see it soon!

      Delete
  2. 98%!!! Wow, you've got me curious now Sati. I've been meaning to check it out but now I really must do it sooner.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You really should watch it! There are some violent scenes here, but not too many, well they are kinda spread out over 180 minutes of the film :)

      Delete
    2. Ok, thanks for the heads up. I can handle *some* violence, just so long as they're not extreme or super gory. Btw, I submitted your review to reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/moviecritic/comments/1b7h0i/fantastic_review_of_martin_scorseses_casino/ Please upvote and ask your friends to do the same :D

      Delete
    3. You can always turn your eyes away from the screen :) It's as bad as in Dredd in several scenes here but it only lasts for few seconds in such gory detail.

      Awesome, thank you!

      Delete
    4. I agree with Lady S. BTW, our colleague Tyson Carter no doubt named his blog after one of the scenes in 'Casino' ;-).

      Delete
    5. Oh, yeah, you're probably right! I think he is a fan of the movie.

      Delete
  3. It's hard to love this movie because it's so much like Goodfellas, but then again, it's so easy to love it because it's so much like Goodfellas. Great movie and a great review.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Spot on! Casino is absolutely superb. I've been meaning to get around to revisiting this and after reading your review Sati, I think I'll be doing that sooner rather than later. Nice work! :-)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's awesome, glad so many people seem to love this movie! Thank you! :)

      Delete
  5. Been relatively high on my watchlist but long movies never motivate me to see them. Didn't really like Goodfellas either (eeeep)

    You've encouraged me to get to it asap!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Trust me with this one time just flies by. I hope you will like it!

      Delete
  6. This is so good, I almost didn't finish it. I checked my blu ray library and was crushed that I didn't own it (though I'm pretty sure I do). Anyway, you unearthed many of my old feeling toward this one and I really appreciate it. I, like you, absolutely love this movie.

    I never get into any arguments with my older brother, but I swear it almost came to blows when I suggested that Casino was better than Goodfellas. He was furious, so I backed down.

    I 900% agree with everything you said about Stone, Pesci and De Niro, but I wanted to frickin' give you the biggest high five ever for your love of Woods. When you first mentioned him, I was ecstatic because I had forgot about him and this fantastic performance. He. Was. Perfect. Then you mentioned him later and it was pure genius. We need more Woods. Everyone does.

    Frickin' excellent post. Brilliant.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had no idea you loved this one, awesome! I usually try to avoid discussions about Scorsese because when I say Casino is his best movie and Pesci was better here than in Goodfellas people look at me funny:)

      Woods was just amazing here, I'm a big fan of his though I only saw him in a handful of films, shame his career isn't in a better state.

      Thank you so much, glad you liked it! :)

      Delete
  7. My God, I agree with everything about this review.

    Yes, it is very difficult to review a film you love (in fear that the review may turn into a love fest bore), and yes, who cares if two films are similar, so long as they’re good?

    And I too agree that although De Niro and Pesci and remarkable here (and James Woods… I just adore him in this movie), Stone is the killer. Had the movie been released in a lesser year for her category, she would’ve won the Oscar. Hell, she should’ve anyway, but oh well.

    Also, I LOVE that still you chose of Pesci with the briefcase. I really like that little moment – the way he graciously tells someone to look out. It’s a small scene, but one packed with character detail. So very Scorsese.

    Sati, you are a good writer you know that? Good fucking writer.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She really should have, in the hands of other actress this could have been just a cliche, forgettable role but she really gave everything she had here. I still cannot believe hers was the only nomination for this movie O_o

      Oh, I chose it because that is such a funny scene - the way he says "watch out!" is just so funny, because it implies that if someone got run over the police would probably pin it on Nicky ^^

      Haha, thank you so much!

      Delete
  8. Epic review! I also agree with everything you said. The performances (Stone's in particular, but everyone is terrific in this), the direction, the writing, the pacing, the overall production - excellent! I think it's MUCH better than Goodfellas, and it's one of my favorites as well.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you! Same here, glad someone else likes it over Goodfellas too :)

      Delete
  9. Gah! The one thing I was gonna say was you didnt mention James Woods, and then you did! :D

    Great write up, I enjoyed reading that. I love this movie. "Lotta holes in the desert... and a lotta problems buried in those holes" LOL

    I used to quote this all the time when I was playing cards a lot. Good times, good times. Definitely a great flick, I almost totally have your back... I would still pick Goodfellas first ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. How could I not?:P

      Thanks, glad to read that! Haha, that's cool there are definitely merits to speak in favor to either of those great movies.

      Delete
  10. Great review! I think I'm going to watch it now.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Awesome, I hope you will enjoy the film!

      Delete
  11. I love this movie even more then Goodfellas. Sharon Stone is amazing in this. Although I would be somewhat curious to see what Traci Lords did to wow them so much that she was even considered. Great Post

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you, glad you are a fellow fan!

      Delete
  12. Outstanding post, really interesting and I love your use of images Sati.

    ReplyDelete
  13. For some reason, this one one of the few Scorsese movies I've never seen. Judging from your write up, I really need to remedy that right away. Great review!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's a brilliant movie, I'm sure you'll enjoy it!

      Delete
  14. Under appreciated Scorsese in my view...a bit like After Hours and King of Comedy. Maybe not as good as Goodfellas but it's still better than most. Scorsese is the king!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Absolutely, the movie is very under appreciated. For me it's his absolute best.

      Delete
  15. very great film...definite companion piece to Goodfellas. loved your review although I think GoodFellas is the greater film - it is an absolutely perfect film and the best film I have seen since 1990. here is my take on Casino if interested: http://jerrysaravia.blogspot.com/2011/02/casino-1995-back-home-years-ago.html

    ReplyDelete