Director Martin Scorsese needs no build up from this humble reviewer; his body of work speaks volumes about his vision as a filmmaker. "Casino", Scorsese's new ode to the gangsters that created that glittering Mecca of sinful delights, Las Vegas, is the kind of movie that's a real showcase for America's premier director.
Robert DeNiro is the star of "Casino", and he plays Sam "Ace" Rothstein, an east coast bookie who's hand-picked by the mob to run the spectacular new Tangiers hotel and casino in Vegas. Rothstein is the perfect choice for the job, taking absolute power and changing the way casinos are run. Soon, the Tangiers is turning over more money than ever before, and Ace is the favorite son of every wiseguy in the country. Of course, when you're in "the business" no good thing lasts forever, and Ace runs into some problems.
Those problems take two forms. His buddy, sadistic gangster Nicky Santoro, played by Joe Pesci, is a tough Italian thug who manages to intimidate practically everyone around him, audience included. Nicky begins to muscle in on Ace's operation, and Ace just has to grin and bear it as Nicky alienates the law as well as the other local "talent". Pesci is actually more frightening here than he was in his Oscar winning role in "Goodfellas". His portrayal is filled with rage and violence, and Scorsese just seems to get the most out of him.
Ace's other problem is his new wife, Ginger, a gorgeous, money hungry hustler who'll stop at nothing to get what she wants. Sharon Stone plays Ginger to the hilt, turning in the performance of her career, as she gets every little bit of hatred and sympathy out of the viewer. By the end of the movie, you can't tell if you're supposed to pity or despise this woman who's helped to destroy the ultimate fantasy gangster empire.
Ultimately, though, "Casino" works because of the incredible collaboration between DeNiro and Scorsese. DeNiro turns in his standard terrific performance, rounding off his character with little quirks and looks that speak of all the hidden, private times that Ace spends thinking about his tragic destiny. Scorsese paints a picture of the rise and fall of the gangster run casinos of Las Vegas with just a touch of nostalgia, but not enough to make one forget that these guys are gangsters, and aren't necessarily deserving of our pity. Destined to be placed along side Martin Scorsese's best films, "Casino" is a great time at the movies that hits the jackpot.
Copyright 1995 John A. Lavin
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