Wednesday, January 12, 2011
(November 1995, U.S.)
You know what the worst part about CASINO is? It's that it's the last time the powerful chesmistry of Martin Scorsese and Robert DeNiro has graced the screen, and so far there are no indications of that magic repeating itself any time soon. It would seem that DeNiro has been replaced lately be DeCaprio (is that some sort of last name prefix coincidence or am I crazy?).
Now that I've vented that minor frustration, let's talk about what a great crime drama CASINO is! It's Las Vegas in the 1970s and the time seems just right for total gangster control of the casinos, the city and the politicians that are supposedly running the show. DeNiro as Sam Rothstein, a Jewish-American top gambling handicapper, is called on by the Mob to oversee the day-to-day operations at the fictional Tangiers casino. And who better to be his "partner in crime" than Joe Pesci (for the third time) as Nicky Santoro. Nicky is...well, to put it bluntly, a complete and total psychotic! As Sam narrates, Nicky is the type of guy who..."No matter how big a guy might be, Nicky would take him on. You beat Nicky with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. And if you beat him with a gun, you better kill him, because he'll keep comin' back and back until one of you is dead." Not convinced? Well, as Nicky warns his banker, "I think in all fairness, I should explain to you exactly what it is that I do. For instance tomorrow morning I'll get up nice and early, take a walk down over to the bank and... walk in and see and, uh....if you don't have my money for me, I'll crack your fuckin' head wide-open in front of everybody in the bank. And just about the time that I'm comin' out of jail, hopefully, you'll be coming out of your coma. And guess what? I'll split your fuckin' head open again. 'Cause I'm fuckin' stupid. I don't give a fuck about jail. That's my business. That's what I do." That pretty much sums him all up, doesn't it? On the other hand, Nicky is not a man completely without a soft spot when it comes to his "job". Just look closely at the scene where he enters an elerly woman's kitchen and puts a bullet into her head - he then takes her head very gently and positions it comfortably, as if to evoke an ounce of decency and sympathy for his victim and not cause her any further suffering in the wake of her bloody execution. I wonder what any half-witted shrink would say about that one?
CASINO is exactly the type of crime film you'd expect from the director of MEAN STREETS (1973) and GOODFELLAS (1995), complete with the wonderfully-cliche colorful mafia characters, their mafia fashion statements (who the fuck dresses Sam Rothstein in this film??), in-depth character narration, endless profanity (when released, CASINO had the most uses of the word "fuck" (422 times!) in a feature length film. And I thought BLUE VELVET had pushed the limit on that one!), background rock music and yes, even Scorsese's own mother making her traditional cameo appearance. But let's focus on the narration and the music for a moment. The narration, as one would expect, does more than further tell the story. It takes you deep inside the world we're being shown and makes you a real part of it. You not only fully aware of what's happening, but there's no question as to what the players are feeling, even if they're mostly feelings of hate and violence. Some so-called screenplay experts have stated that narration in any film is a sure sign for script failure. Failure?? If I had the time, I could list countless great films that feature extensive narration, CASINO and GOODFELLES just being two of them. Now there's also the music. Scorsese's use of rock music is not just simple background scrore, but it takes on a character of it's own. The songs seems to come at just the right moment of action and before you know it, the Rolling Stones "Can't You Hear Me Knocking" and the Animal's "House of the Rising Sun" are taking you deeper into a film you've already fell pretty deep into. And hey, where else can you hear not one, but TWO songs by Devo in one film (okay, that's actually NOT a good thing!)?
By the way, I should also point out that Sharon Stone doesn't disappoint in a character of highly sexual energy (she acts well, too). Keeps a hot-blooded man's fantasies alive and well...at least up until the point where her character has become nothing more than an irrational, fucked-up coke addict.
Favorite line or dialogue:
Sam Rothstein (voice-over): "In Vegas, everybody's gotta watch everybody else. Since the players are looking to beat the casino, the dealers are watching the players. The box men are watching the dealers. The floor men are watching the box men. The pit bosses are watching the floor men. The shift bosses are watching the pit bosses. The casino manager is watching the shift bosses. I'm watching the casino manager. And the eye-in-the-sky is watching us all."