I've always loved movies about gambling. Being a broke student for the first part of my life kind of encouraged that fantasy of winning away all my financial troubles and thinking that everything would be solved because of it. At its heart, Casino is about the exact same thing. The mob wants their skim from the casino, the hotel manager (Robert DeNiro) wants to take the gamblers, the gamblers want to take the casino, the girl (Sharon Stone) wants to take the manager to finance her bad habits, the friend (Joe Pesci) wants more than his take from the skim, the government wants their take in taxes, and the chain goes on and on. It's about a love affair with money, and how even with so much around there's never enough to appease anyone.
What makes Casino great is the depth of the story, and how each of the key roles brings a unique and dynamic conflict to the surface. DeNiro's character isn't so much concerned with the mob as he is about running a successful casino. He's talented and smart, and knows how to take advantage of impulsive gamblers. But his trusted friend, played by Pesci, is one of those impulsive types and always seems to be on the verge of derailing what DeNiro's established. Then there's Stone, who plays the girl that knows how to get what she wants, and through her that we see what a well oiled machine the Vegas scene is for people who know what they want.
As if there isn't enough to hold your attention in a story about gangsters, casinos, and crime, it's the fact that this select group of leads is always teetering on the edge of having it all and losing it all. This formula keeps Casino consistently sharp, and much like Scorsese's previous mob hit, Goodfellas, it gives the film a rich array of characters to bounce the action between.
I love how the politics of Vegas serve as a fitting backdrop, and how winning and losing is expanded to incorporate the evolution of Las Vegas itself. DeNiro as Ace Rothstein (based on the real Frank Rosenthal) narrates at the end of the film, "The town will never be the same. After the Tangiers, the big corporations took it all over. Today it looks like Disneyland. And while the kids play cardboard pirates, Mommy and Daddy drop the house payments and Junior's college money on the poker slots. In the old days, dealers knew your name, what you drank, what you played. Today, it's like checking into an airport. And if you order room service, you're lucky if you get it by Thursday. Today, it's all gone."
|Signed copy of the Casino script at the Mob Museum.
Casino is captivating and beautiful to watch, and sparks the same kind of euphoria and rush as taking a ride down the strip. It's an adventure driven by money, a character piece defined by the worst traits, and an ultimate Scorsese flick that embodies that nostalgic Vegas vibe. I guess in some strange way every tourist still gets a kick out of the idea that Vegas was run by the mob. Heck, we visited the Mob Museum while we were in Vegas because of it. In my opinion, Casino is a no-risk gamble.