Tuesday, October 2, 2007
Casino; crime drama, USA, 1995; D: Martin Scorsese, S: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Frank Vincent, Kevin Pollak, Don Rickles, Alan King
In '83, Sam "Ace" Rothstein becomes a victim of a car bomb. A decade earlier, he was a greedy mafia member who by a deceit got a casino in Las Vegas and started cheating with all possible methods in order to always win money, and never lose. Anyone who tried to cheat at the poker was brutally punished. But his life started falling apart when he married the unfaithful prostitute Ginger and fired the brother-in-law of County Commissioner Webb. His associate Nicky was killed by the mob, Ginger by drugs and he was degraded to the post of an average sports handicapper.
"Casino", the 8th and last collaboration between Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro, truly seems either like a sequel or a restructuring of "Goodfellas" due to huge stylistic similarities between those two films - at some moments it seems the only difference are characters' names - but this time the impact was weaker: only Sharon Stone was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe, while Joe Pesci almost shamelessly copied his performance as Tommy from the above mentioned film. As with most Scorsese crime films, "Casino" also handles the issues of evil and greed among the gangsters who act like hyenas when trying to gain profit and cheat - in one scene, one of the characters was smuggling small diamonds in the hair of a woman, and after they passed custom control he almost lost his nerves because he got scared she might have hidden even one diamond from him - showing a dark world where there are no good guys, and the extreme violence only shows that their lives are not that glamorous as it seems.
Even though it is cold and overstuffed, "Casino" is brilliantly directed, with numerous clever touches and almost metafilm ideas (i.e. the casino in the plot, Tangiers, is based on a real Las Vegas casino, Stardust. It is never directly mentioned, but Scorsese subtly plays the song "Stardust" by Hoagy Carmichael in not one, but three scenes; the flashy cinematography mimics the casino's "rush of the senses"; Pesci plays a character who kills Frank Vincent's character in "Goodfellas", whereas here, as an ironic "payback", Vincent's character takes revenge on Pesci's character) and acts like a negative epic: it is comprehensive, a cognition of outer reality with regards to the (anti)hero, there is a narrator (even two, actually: both Sam and Nicky - and then even a third one shows up towards the last third of the film!), a long story, monologues and repetition, historically-stylish characteristics and a dark ending, with a very indicative message without moralizing about how the characters end up so "low". At moments, it is a real treat to get a glimpse of the soulless world of corruption, betrayal and money - unlike many romanticized Hollywood films, "Casino" takes a dark approach and shows characters who never find the love of their life, even though they are rich - De Niro is great in the leading role and the movie is excellent, maybe even Scorsese's last big film (tied with the very good "The Departed"). And yet, there is still that feeling that as a whole it seems too planned, artificial and without a soul.