Review: Casino (1995)

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Joe Pesci, so tiny, yet so full of rage, it’s amazing!

Screenplay By: Nicholas Pileggi & Martin Scorsese
Directed By: Martin Scorsese

I’m not a big Martin Scorsese fan, I don’t hate the man or deny his ability as a director, but at the same time I find myself not taken by most of his work. My biggest issue with Scorsese is his desire to glorify detestable characters. I have no problem with scumbag characters, they do exist after all and they can be very interesting. My problem comes into play with Scorsese’s penchant for glorifying scumbags to the point of heroic status. It’s one thing to present violence on screen and say, “these people were violent, this is what happened” and to present violence on screen and say, “these people were violent, and they were awesome.” It’s a personal thing, but it’s a part of Scorsese’s work that greatly holds him back in my mind.

Casino is a great example of Scorsese’s glorification syndrome in effect. All movie long we witness deplorable people and despicable acts, and it is conveyed under the guise of, “Hey, these were violent people, they did horrible things, but you need to see it.” Scorsese’s idea of gangsters and glory comes into play at the end when through a voice over and visuals the movie conveys that Las Vegas today is a joke and that back in the old days when the cool gangsters were in charge things were much better. Scorsese spent an entire movie showing us despicable acts by despicable people from the outside vantage of “Isn’t this just despicable.” But his final message is that those despicable acts and people were actually pretty cool and better than the corporations we have today. So, forget what I just showed you for the last two and a half hours, just focus on these parting thoughts, gangsters are great and it’s sad that their days in ultimate power are over.

The only character who doesn’t end up reveling in the idea of glory is Ginger, but that has more to do with Sharon Stone playing her as a liar and scum, not someone who thinks they are a good person. There are possible feminist issues on display again, another fault some people find in Scorsese’s work, because women are punished thoroughly and used completely, while every male character that matters is glorified in some way. Personally, I don’t get the anti-woman vibe from Casino, gangsters don’t exactly think highly of women and the movie was honest in that regard.

There are some other issues in Casino, such as the never ending voice over narration. While this method conveys all the information the audience could want, it also creates a distance between the audience and the characters. It creates a scenario where I felt like I was witnessing a historical chronicling of these events as opposed to actually being involved in some sort of story. The voice over narration also results in situations where information is repeated, by different characters and based on what we can already infer from what we see on screen. A particularly bad example of a double dose of information didn’t deal with voice over but with subtitles. When Nicky and Sam are speaking in code the scene didn’t need subtitles telling us that they were speaking in code. They are gangsters so it’s pretty easy to pick up that they aren’t speaking naturally and later the voice over tells us that they were speaking in code.

There were other small things like Robert De Niro obviously being switched with a fake dummy in the beginning car explosion and how that scene of the explosion doesn’t match up with the later explosion scene we are given. But, that’s enough of what bugged me, because while Casino was a very flawed movie it was still a good movie and I don’t want to give the impression that I abhorred this film.

I already mentioned her, but Sharon Stone was the one great performance in the cast. Pesci and De Niro were good, but they are playing the same characters they always play. Stone was the one person willing to go somewhere else with her character, and it’s no surprise that the one character who felt more honestly portrayed than the rest featured the best performance in the film.

The beginning of the film was nothing but exposition, but it flowed real well and it’s handled so it doesn’t feel like exposition. Unfortunately they stuck with the voice over theme and because of that the entire film feels like one long exposition session. However, for those first twenty or so minutes the exposition is handled really well and feels more natural than it does for the rest of the film.

Some of the places they go with the story are neat touches, especially when Sam asks Ginger to marry him. The worst thing she could have done was say no, because as a gambler that was like a challenge to him. Even though she says to his face that she doesn’t love him he rolls the dice on their marriage because he’s a gambler and that’s what he does.

Direction wise Scorsese had his moments with the camera, the dual cheating scene was presented masterfully. The way that was set-up and the way the camera moved with Sam to discover the two cheaters was a thing of beauty. Any time the characters were in a smoke filled room Scorsese did a splendid job of capturing the smoke in mid-air, playing into the hazy nature of their lives and other such themes.

I don’t think Scorsese had directed as many great films as others do, but I know that Casino should not be considered one of them. It’s a good film that is interesting, but it’s also terribly uneven in what it wants to say and in the honesty of its characters. However, if you are a fan of gangster epics then Casino is certainly for you, but due to its overly long nature and meandering narrative I won’t recommend Casino to just anyone, make sure you want to see this movie when you actually sit down to watch it.

Rating:

***

Cheers,
Bill

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4 responses to “Review: Casino (1995)

  1. Conan the Barbarian (1982), Casino (1995), and The Matrix (1999) contain scenes, borrowed from Soviet movies. Video and text commentary on this topic:

    http://blog.daniyar.info/2011/05/29/how-hollywood-borrowed-from-soviet-movies.aspx

  2. you are dead wrong though you are honest enough to present you anti scorcese bias my is totally pro–and recent films have reinforced it. This film seen 17 years after makes me think that in some ways it almost equals goodfellows……It is strong and relevant and more so now than ever….and the acting is wonderful..long yes but it is an epic and much bolder and more ambitious than goodfellows his masterpiece–though I would throw in Hugo and The Departed and The Last Waltz…..

  3. There’s no wrong in film, such is the case with a subjective art. That being said, I found Hugo to be merely okay, while The Departed I felt was terrible. I haven’t enjoyed anything Scorsese has done since Casino, and before that I was never a big fan of his work. He’s a competent director and he’s made a few good-great films, but I don’t find him to be anywhere near the best of directors.

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