Casino (1995)

Synopsis: Greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two best friends: a mafia underboss and a casino owner, for a trophy wife over a gambling empire.

For more info and to watch the trailer, click here:

Who chose it: Brent

Why I chose it: Years ago, I bought a copy of “Casino” on a discounted price. I hadn’t seen it before I bought it, but when I sat down to watch it I discovered that the DVD I had was broken. It would skip starting at the 100-minute mark. Very distracting — I wanted to finally see it in its entirety.

Brent’s Review:

“Casino” has an incredibly complicated plot, which I shall attempt to recapitulate succinctly. In the 1970’s, casinos in Las Vegas are controlled by the mafia using an intricate series of fall guys, proxies, and bag men to give the appearance of legitimacy while skimming their take of the profits. $100 million may go into the casino each week, but the mafia bosses (located in Kansas City) get their money by skimming a little off the top, a few million here and there – who’s the wiser?

Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is a proxy for the mafia bosses, placed in charge of the Tangiers casino and hotel. He’s good at it – probably better than he needs to be. He’s got a good thing going, but trouble comes on two fronts: his childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) and a transfixing call girl named Ginger (Sharon Stone). Sam tiptoes around Nicky, who knocks off oddsmakers and bookies in Vegas in an attempt to establish his own crime syndicate. On the other hand, Sam goes all in with Ginger, fathering a child, marrying her, and giving her the only other key to a safety deposit box full of millions of dollars in cash and jewelry. If you’re wondering whether this is a poor decision, then you probably aren’t familiar with the genre.

“Casino” is part of what I’ll call a “Wiseguy” trilogy for Scorsese, including “Wolf of Wall Street” and my all-time favorite film, “Goodfellas.” All three films have a distinct style: “cool” movies with lots of narration, and plenty of anti-heroes. “Casino” isn’t a bad movie, but it’s easily the worst of the three. In “Goodfellas”, we see Henry Hill rise and fall in the mafia, ending up as a nobody. In “Wolf”, Belfort’s horrific life is recounted before our eyes and yet he is still idolized by many. In “Casino”, we see Sam… eventually land where he started.

The three leads are incredibly unlikeable throughout the film. Sam is psychologically abusive to his wife, Nicky is violent and stubborn, and Ginger is a selfish drug addict. “Casino” falls well short of both “Goodfellas” and “Wolf” because there isn’t one single likeable character – even in the supporting cast (“Wolf” at least had Jordan’s father!). When the characters finally get their comeuppance, the violence plays flat because I didn’t have a reason to root for them in the first place.

Leah put it well after “Casino” ended: “It’s like they said, ‘Hey, let’s make ‘Goodfellas’ again.’” Yep. The difference is that “Casino” is cold – Scorsese rarely involves the audience in what’s happening on screen as well as he does in “Goodfellas”. The setup and the punchline isn’t the same, but the delivery and the substance are: these are bad people living in a bad world and bad things will happen to them.

“Casino” is… O.K. I can’t recommend it, but I wouldn’t tell you to avoid it. Now having seen it in its entirety, I conjure only one word: disappointment.

Leah’s Review:

“As far back as I can remember I always wanted to be a casino owner.”

I was looking forward to watching “Casino”. Martin Scorsese has made some amazing films including “Goodfellas” which like “Casino”, focuses on the complex lives of mob members. “Casino” also (like “Goodfellas”) stars one of my favorite actors, Robert DeNiro.

The film was solid. It featured excellent performances from its lead cast and had an intriguing, fast-paced storyline. However, “Casino” came up short for me. Maybe if I hadn’t already seen “Goodfellas”, I would have enjoyed it more. Because it kind of felt like Scorsese had such a good time making his 1990 gangster film, that he decided to make another one five years later that wasn’t as good. There are a lot of similar themes in both films. The plots that focus on the mafia, excessive violence, language, and drug use, messy marriages, and endings that show the lead characters getting their comeuppance. But in my opinion, “Goodfellas” was a more engaging and better-made film.

Something “Casino” does well (much like “Goodfellas”) is create a stylish atmosphere that you as the audience want to be a part of. Scorsese does a great job of making the mob life look cool, exciting, and appealing. “Casino” features a wide color palette that much like its setting (Las Vegas) is lavish, bold, and loud. The costume budget for the movie was $1 million and DeNiro alone had 70 different costumes (Stone had a measly 40). As someone who appreciates fashion, I loved each and every one of DeNiro’s fabulous suits that were custom-made just for him.

The best part of “Casino” were the performances of DeNiro and Stone. I can’t not enjoy a film with a good DeNiro performance. He’s truly a masterclass actor, and this genre suits him so well. I had never watched a movie with Sharon Stone in it before and was blown away by her performance. She plays her character of the cunning, drug-addict, trophy wife to a T and is able to showcase her acting skills on both sides of the characters’ spectrum (a confident con-artist to a desperate user). Not surprisingly, Stone was rewarded with her first Golden Globe and an Oscar nomination.

All in all, “Casino” was not a bad film. But it certainly wasn’t my favorite. It lacked that engaging quality that would make me want to watch it again. I may be biased, but I think I’ll stick to “Goodfellas”.

Up Next: We’ll be watching Joseph Gordon-Levitt (before he became the heartthrob from “500 Days of Summer”) in one of his first big-picture performances: “Brick”.

Peace out, kids.


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