Directed by Martin Scorsese
Written by Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese
In celebration of the 10th anniversary of its release, Universal has re-released Martin Scorsese’s Casino on DVD. The film fictionalizes the story of how the mob lost their casinos in Las Vegas, due in part to the relationship between casino manager Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, mob enforcer Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, and Frank’s wife Geri. In the film they are the characters Sam “Ace” Rothstein, Nicky Santoro, and Ginger. Casino thematically completes a gangster trilogy that started with the young hoods on the Mean Streets of Little Italy. Those kids became the mobsters of Goodfellas, who then matured into trusted, high-level positions; however, they didn’t mature enough because as Nicky says, they “fucked it all up.”
Ace is so good at sports betting he is sent by the Chicago bosses to run the Tangiers hotel. In real life, Rosenthal took over the Stardust, which is alluded to by having three different versions of the song “Stardust” appear on the soundtrack. Ace falls for Ginger, who he knows is a hustler. Ace says, “for a girl like Ginger love costs money,” but he doesn’t care and is willing to take the long shot that she’ll come around. It’s a sucker bet.
Nicky is sent to Vegas to make sure nobody messes with Ace or the scam of the casino’s profits being skimmed. He is of equal importance to this story, which is made apparent by his sharing the narration with Ace. Unfortunately for Ace and the mob, Nicky would rather rule in Vegas than serve in Chicago. He immediately began to set his own rules. “When he won, he collected. When he lost, he told the bookies to go fuck themselves.” He had plans to take over the town and if the bosses didn’t like it, he was more than ready to start a war with them.
Ginger is a disaster waiting to happen and Ace was too blinded by her beauty to see it. Aside from being a hustler, she’s a drunk and a drug addict who can’t live the role Ace wants her to. She is desperate to get away from Ace and turns to the one guy in Vegas that’s bigger than him, Nicky. She uses the only thing she has to offer that Nicky wants, her body. This is a big problem because the bosses don’t like guys screwing around with other guy’s wives.
Scorsese saw Casino as a retelling of Paradise Lost. Adam and Eve lost the Garden of Eden because of their sin of pride. Ace had been given “one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas to run” by the bosses. He referred to it as “paradise on Earth,” and it too was lost because of pride as well as the other deadly sins. The fall from grace is foreshadowed in the title sequence, created by the legendary Saul and Elaine Bass. After Ace’s car explodes, he is seeing falling into Hell while Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” plays on the soundtrack.
Casino is the last film by Scorsese that left me thoroughly satisfied. What I am especially impressed with is that he understands film is a visual medium, allowing the story to be shown rather than told. One great example is exquisitely presented after Ace and Ginger’s wedding. He knew she didn’t return his feelings but thought he could control her by buying her love. When he takes her to their new home, Ginger is wearing a vibrant outfit that has all the colors of the rainbow. In contrast, Ace is wearing dark, muted colors. He shows her around and unveils a chinchilla mink for her that is black, gray and white. He puts it on her and hugs her tight, but her colorful headband is still visible. The scene is wonderful metaphor for the characters and their relationship.
Scorsese does the same thing with his musical choices. He captures the emotion and essence of a scene by using the soundtrack to supplement information. When Ginger asks Nicky to help get her jewels out of the bank so she can leave Ace, the music playing softly in the background is B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.”
There are some special moments for the serious Scorsese aficionado, such as Frank Vincent finally getting to give Joe Pesci a beating after taking one in Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Another great scene is with Scorsese’s mother, Catherine, who makes her last film appearance. She plays Piscano’s Mother and has a hysterical scene where she chastises him for cursing. You can tell she’s not acting, but reacting to the moment. It is natural and perfect. I wish they would collect all her moments so they could be watched all together
The Anniversary Edition has a digitally remastered picture that looks great. The colors look fantastic and pop off the screen. A number of special features have been added as well that provide a great amount of insight to the true story as well as the making of the film.
In Casino: The Story, Pileggi explains he was working on the book at the same time he and Scorsese worked on the script. Understandably, they were having trouble getting Rosenthal and others to open up about their lives. When Pileggi let it be known that Scorsese was making a movie and Rosenthal was going to be played by Robert DeNiro, the floodgates opened and everyone became very forthcoming. Pileggi also discusses his how he used the words of his interviewees to create the dialogue because their voices were so much more natural and authentic than anything he could create.
Major cast and crewmembers talk about their work on the film. DeNiro, Pesci, and Sharon Stone explain their working relationship with Scorsese and each other. Production designer Dante Ferreti talks about creating the look of the ‘70s for the film. Rita Ryack discusses the costumes, which were a serious undertaking with DeNiro’s character alone. Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s editor since Raging Bull, gives some of the credit to Scorsese because his vision is so focused and clear that he almost shoots the entire film as it is going to be seen, leaving her to trim the heads and tails of the scenes. This was the first film she ever edited digitally. The cast and crew all excel in their craft, especially Sharon Stone, who agrees with me that this is the best work she has ever done.
There is a 30-minute documentary called Vegas and the Mob as well as a program from The History Channel called True Crime Authors. It tells the true story Casino was based on, combining reenactments and news footage in 45 minutes. Pileggi and Rosenthal appear in interviews.
Instead of a commentary track, there is an optional audio track called “Moments with…” that takes audio clips of interviews from the cast and crew and for the majority of the time the subject matter corresponds to what’s on the screen. Unfortunately, a good portion of this audio is from the interviews that appear in the other extras, so I felt cheated since I had watched them first. I would have like to have heard Scorsese dissecting the film as he watched it. At times, I found it hard to concentrate on the “Moments with…” because the visuals are so captivating.
The film is filled with brutal violence and strong language, so it might be too rough for some. I found it to be a magnificent portal into a world that should only be viewed from afar. I enjoy it more each time I see it because it is so rich in details. Luckily, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there.