Larry’s review published on Letterboxd:
I want to start off this review by saying Happy Saint Patrick’s Day to all my followers! I hope all of you who are out enjoying the festivities are being safe. For those of you who know my drunken antics and experimenting with dangerous substances, it might come to a surprise that I stayed in tonight. I’ve had some bad nights and I think that kind lifestyle is through with for now. I made myself some tacos, got cozy under an electric blanket, and watched one of my favorite films: Casino.
Way back when I first watched this, I kept thinking how hard it must have been for Scorsese to top Goodfellas. That film really cemented his place in mob movie history and ushered in a new way of ultra-violent story telling. Casino at first glance appears to be a bigger, longer, and more convoluted version of Goodfellas. But I think it’s a different beast entirely that is one of Scorsese’s strongest outings. The film may only seem convoluted to some because of Scorsese’s hyper-realistic attention to detail when it comes to showing the financial and technical parts of running an organized crime operation. It’s an unflinching look behind the scenes that is filled with mob lingo, fast talking Italian Americans, and code words. He doesn’t slow down or explain these kinds of things but after multiple viewings you learn to eat it up and savor every bite. Scorsese really knows how to paint a portrait of a criminal. It almost makes you wonder if he was in the mob himself at one point. He seems to know an awful lot. ;)
Aside from the great characterization Martin also continues his streak of fluid editing and seamless camera work that makes the film flow like a grand illustrious river. His creative cinematography is also another famous thing in the Scorsese editing room. I heard someone try to define what cinematography meant to them, and they said “cinematography is camera angles, movements, and tricks that show the viewer a scene like they wouldn’t be able to see it if they were actually there in real life.” This is very true and well put. Scorsese includes shots that flow up grand illuminated staircases to zoom in on characters faces, or views from high angled shots as they revolve around cars to show characters getting out of every door. A couple other camera tricks include showing the inside of a light bulb igniting in an old camera as it snaps a picture, and the inside of a straw as cocaine is sucked up inside it like a vacuum. Camera tricks also coincide with the theme of the movie. Close ups and reverse shots are used indoors, rarely displaying a characters whole body. Then as the characters move outside, the camera pulls back to show long distance shots to really show how small and powerless characters are outside of their Casinos, and outside of Vegas. The city is recreated in a very large scale that really brings the strip to life. Vibrant colors and exquisite suits really add to the high class atmosphere; a classic Scorsese staple.
The last thing I want to briefly go over is the characters. Robert DeNiro plays Jewish Casino owner Ace Rothstein as he struggles to keep his money and power during the age of the Teamsters, and the mafia that controlled Vegas. Two main people are attributed to his downfall and they are Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) and Ginger McKenna. (Sharon Stone) Pesci is a little fireball that is played with as much intensity as ever. Him, and DeNiro’s exchanges are cinema gold. I hated Sharon Stones character but that only means that the character was convincing and amazingly acted. The actors who do the best job are the ones who can really sell their characters no matter how good, or evil. These two characters are foreshadowed early on as being bad news. One of the first glimpses of Nicky’s wild side is when he brutally assaults a man at a bar. After the assault ends, the camera pans up to his anger twisted face in slow motion, with smoke swirling around him, and a bloody pen clutched in his hands like some kind of demonic force with a hazy past. Sharon Stones character is first introduced making a man’s life a living hell after flirting with him. She tosses all his money into the air for everyone to grab up. These two things should’ve been warning signs for Ace, but he falls into the trap regardless.
His rise and fall is told in a swift and violent fashion that really exposes Vegas with unflinching honesty. It’s a bad place where people go to forget they are good. The House ALWAYS wins. The only winners in Vegas are the people at top. And you know what they say about people on top. They only have one way to go but down.
The film may get a little bloated in some parts, it lacks the soda fountain nostalgic vibe that Goodfellas had, and a lot of Casinos characters feel recycled from old Scorsese movies. But this fantastic fable of love, greed, power, and crime is one of the best around. I recommend giving it a rewatch if you are looking to get swept up into the world of Old Vegas.