Directed by Martin Scorsese.
Starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak, and James Woods.
A tale of greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two best friends: a mafia enforcer and a casino executive compete against each other over a gambling empire, and over a fast-living and fast-loving socialite.
Martin Scorsese and Robert De Niro’s collaborations need no introduction with the pair teaming on nine films and soon to work together on Killers of the Flower Moon. The pair’s eighth collaboration, 1995’s Casino, now comes to digital for the first time and remains an underrated film from a director on one of his hottest streaks, fresh off the huge acclaim of Goodfellas and his take on The Age of Innocence with Daniel Day Lewis.
Casino focuses on Sam Rothstein (De Niro), a Jewish American gambling expert handicapper tasked by the Chicago Outfit to oversee casino and hotel operations at the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. It also marked Scorsese’s third collaboration with Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro, Sam’s right hand man. The real highlight of the film however wasn’t its two leading men but Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna earning rave reviews and an Academy Award nomination – indeed the film’s sole Oscar nomination.
With so many creatives involved in both Goodfellas and Casino, there are naturally comparisons between the two but the focus on gambling does mean these are often unwarranted and De Niro is more front and centre here with him more a supporting figure to Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill in Goodfellas. Stylistically there are of course some similarities, the use of voiceover and some of the terminology but for the most part they are different beasts. As with Goodfellas there are bouts of explosive violence.
De Niro and Pesci are as one might expect on top form with Sam looking to be in control and Pesci a fine foil. Stone deservedly earned plaudits, lighting up the screen whenever she appears. De Niro is on screen for the vast majority of the film’s three hour runtime and so there is much relying on his performance and he exudes star power showing how in sync he is with Scorsese in one of this finest performances of the 1990s, remarkably coming alongside another the same year in Michael Mann’s Heat.
Cinematographer Robert Richardson in his first of seven collaborations with Scorsese shows why they are such a fine pairing, delivering a visual treat and one of Scorsese’s most aesthetically pleasing films. As ever with a Scorsese film the soundtrack is an eclectic mix of Blues, Soul, Rock N Roll and more with tracks by Dinah Washington, Dean Martin, The Rolling Stones, Otis Redding and Muddy Waters among many others. It is one of the strongest soundtracks of his storied career and perfectly fits the films 70s setting.
Casino is a film showing a director at the top of his game in the middle of an especially hot streak. If not Scorsese’s strongest effort it is certainly worthy of appreciation. De Niro and Pesci excel as ever while Sharon Stone almost steals the film from under them, and if there is an element of formula on display it is simply because Scorsese is one of the best at the crime epic, beautifully capturing 70s Vegas and sandwiched between The Age of Innocence and Kundun showing his range, something he often doesn’t get enough credit for.
Nearly 30 years on Casino remains a strong film within a fine filmography and a De Niro Scorsese collaboration worthy of praise.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★/ Movie: ★ ★ ★ ★