Casino ★★★★

There are still some surprises to be had in this world, as here I witness a Martin Scorsese film, one that borrows much of the formula and aesthetics of Goodfellas, managing to win me over with only a few minor quibbles that barricaded me from claiming this to be a perfect film. Casino was a film that managed to maintain my engagement throughout its lengthy running time, and deliver interesting characters, alongside with strong performances, leaving me more impressed with each moment of reflection.

As I had previously said, it borrows much of the cues of Goodfellas, yet something must have been different from the recipe as the response was polarising, demonstrating a far more indulgent mode of filmmaking, embarking on an introductory phase of its plot that takes up about 40 minutes of the entire feature, placing the pieces on the table and familiarising them, preparing them for the slow dissection that is to come ahead. There was something about the characters that managed to convey a more compelling experience, be it the moral essence that exists within Robert De Niro’s Sam Rothstein, the hungry greed that motivates Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro, or the fragility of Sharon Stone’s Ginger McKenna. Their turns of such roles allowed for a window of absorption of the audience, finding a sense of value towards these figures within such a world, knowing that occasionally it is beyond their internal motivations and desires that places them within areas of vulnerability, as the world itself contributes a significant factor to their respective arcs; this was the unique ingredient that I felt was missing from Goodfellas, characters seemingly in the mercy of its cinematic style and world completely, almost as if too passive to be validated as real characters.

Speaking of the world that surrounds them, Scorsese depicts a period of Las Vegas that flourished in ways that differed from the intentions that has established the contemporary perception of the city. It was more than just a playground for its residents and entrepreneurs, within lied a spiritual and emotional connection that drew these people closer, one that manipulated their lives either for better or worse, but lacks the sense of superficial and palpable filth that the film claims modern Vegas professes. Scorsese and the film’s other screenwriter, Nicholas Pileggi - also the author of the source material - allows generous opportunities to expose the inner workings of the systems that exist within Vegas, the scope of its impact, and the players that are involved, while simultaneously constructing its chief characters, and how they become critical in the eventual downfall of the glorious and respectable era of gambling. Scorsese takes this almost objective outlook of the system, and fashionably and gracefully wraps it in the narrative arcs of its characters, tapping on relevant themes with each passing step of its character’s journey, one that feels far less preachy and hammering as compared to some of Scorsese’s other films.

Of course, Casino would not have been able to intoxicate me and many others simply by its plotting and characters alone, as without that trademark facade that Scorsese crafts so well, a visual engagement that parallels fittingly the intentions of its material, unhesitant in its symbolic gestures and shockingly brutal but tasteful violence, paired upon with popular music cues that acts as a bittersweet touch to the overall experience, and with this I proclaim with a sense of optimism. This was an example of Scorsese understanding intelligently the relationship between style and substance, how the pieces that cues to our senses attend to the deeper ambitions of its story, elevating the necessary factors in delivering an experience that would resonate with its audience.

There is no doubt that shortcomings existed within the median of its stretched running time, notably as its pacing begins to take a minor halt as it prepares for the tumbling outcomes that would take place in its final hour, yet it is hard to become so harsh towards the film when so much of its pieces were attended and delivered to a surprising excellence, restoring one’s faith in the latter phases of this filmmaker’s career, a crucial highpoint for some members of its cast, all packaged in a slick and infectious atmosphere that would leave many aspiring and established filmmakers in envy.

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