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Casino: Anniversary Edition DVD Review

Casino: Anniversary Edition

December 29, 2005

Director: Martin Scorsese, ,
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, James Woods, L.Q. Jones, Frank Vincent, John Bloom, Dick Smothers, Pasquale Cajano, Melissa Prophet, Bill Allison, Vinny Vella, ,

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DVD Review

Casino (1995) was Martin Scorsese’s first attempt at a big budget, studio-backed epic. He would take the style and structure of GoodFellas (1990) and expand it on a much more ambitious level. Many criticized Casino as GoodFellas Part 2 but this is merely a superficial reading of Scorsese’s movie. Casino completes his unofficial trilogy of gangster films. Mean Streets (1973) is all about small-time, street-level hoods, GoodFellas is about mid-level crooks who wield more power and Casino is about the big time: gangsters who run large casinos that generate millions of dollars. With this film, Scorsese not only shows us how Las Vegas casinos were run by East Coast wise guys but the rise and fall of one man whose ambition overtook his grasp and his blind love of a woman that ultimately resulted in his downfall.

Sam “Ace” Rothstein (De Niro) is a clever gambler promoted to the role of head honcho of Tangiers, the new casino in town, by Mafioso types. Ace oversees day-to-day operations and the first half of the film brilliantly plays this out in documentary fashion as we are shown how a casino is organized and run. Soon enough the casino is making a huge profit which attracts Nicky Santoro (Pesci), an East Coast pal from Ace’s past. Nicky hooks up with Ace, acting as the man’s enforcer which perfectly suits his unpredictable, often volatile behaviour. The real problems occur when Ace meets Ginger McKenna (Stone), a former prostitute, now grifter, who hustles everyone in sight ¬– including Ace whom she marries. However, domestic life isn’t exactly her cup of tea and she begins to dissolve in a haze of drugs, alcohol, and sex with Nicky. Ace soon finds his way of life spiraling out of control and the rest of the film follows Ace’s descent.

Casino saw the re-teaming of Scorsese with Nicholas Pileggi who had begun researching and writing a book about gangster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal and the Mafia’s legacy in Las Vegas. As with Pileggi’s Wiseguys (which became the film GoodFellas), Scorsese was intrigued by real life gangsters and felt that he could do a new take on the subject. Casino would enable him to explore new territory.

Scorsese’s film examines the notion of Las Vegas as being some sort of perverse paradise on Earth, a place where there were no limits. To this end, Casino features a vibrant, often garish colour scheme; loud, wall-to-wall music; and all sorts of excesses that illustrate the decadent nature of Las Vegas and how the characters in the film are consumed completely by it. Ace, Ginger and Nicky have too much money and are drunk on power. Ace deludes himself into thinking that he can always stay in control. He creates a false sense of security, believing that he could lead a normal life in Las Vegas.

Sharon Stone shows previous unseen depth as an actress with her performance in Casino. Ginger is a grifter who loves money and drugs more than she loves Ace. It is a raw, fearless performance and the heart of darkness in this movie. Ginger’s beauty seduces Ace but her soul is rotten. She acts as the catalyst for the downfall of both Ace and Nicky.

Casino documents a bygone era that no longer exists. Now, Las Vegas has been taken over by corporations and become a theme park for the whole family. The film examines Las Vegas during its heyday when it was strictly a playground for adults.

Scorsese’s movie received a lot press and commercial attention upon its release but was not very successful at the box office. At over three hours and with rather brutal depictions of violence, most people stayed away. The film was even marketed in ads as a love story between Stone and De Niro! In fact, the violence was so off-putting that Academy members were reported to have left in the middle of screenings resulting in another poor outing at the Oscars for Scorsese. The studio that was distributing Casino clearly did not know how to package it but over the years the movie has enjoyed a reappraisal and is regarded as one of Scorsese’s finest efforts.

Special Features

The first DVD features an audio commentary by Martin Scorsese, co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and others. This track is done in the style of a Criterion commentary with several participants edited together to eliminate dead air and provide multiple viewpoints. It begins by tracing the film’s origins from Pileggi’s rough notes that were originally intended for a book. Schoonmaker talks about her long-running professional relationship with Scorsese and his working methods. As they did on the GoodFellas commentary, Pileggi and Scorsese dominate and talk about the film’s themes in a very eloquent and engaging way.

The second DVD starts off with an eight minute featurette entitled, “Casino: The Story.” Scorsese owed a film to Universal and decided to team up with Pileggi again and focus on Las Vegas gangsters. Pileggi talks about how he had trouble getting the real Ace interested until the man learned that De Niro was involved and suddenly he became much more cooperative. There is quite a bit of overlap from the commentary track on this and the other featurettes.

“Casino: The Cast and Characters” is a substantial look at the actors and the characters they played. Scorsese says that the commitment of De Niro, Pesci and Stone got the film made. While De Niro and Pesci appear in interviews done during the film’s release, Stone contributes a brand new one and speaks candidly about how hard she campaigned for the role of Ginger. As she recounts her experiences of working on the movie, she is actually moved to tears in a very revealing moment.

“Casino: The Look” examines how the period detail was achieved by production designer Dante Ferretti. Scorsese actually shot in Vegas casinos and talks briefly about the challenges of shooting in such a busy, noisy environment.

“Casino: After the Filming” takes a look at the editing process. Schoonmaker talks about how Scorsese had already thought out the visuals and even some of the editing before shooting the movie. Long-time friend, Robbie Robertson helped the filmmaker pick the songs used in the movie.

There are three minutes of deleted scenes that resemble outtakes more than anything else. There is a funny take with Scorsese’s mom and Pesci goofing around on the set.

“Vegas and the Mob” takes a look at the real life gangsters that the film is based on. It traces the rise of the Mob-run casinos in the ‘30s with Bugsy Siegel, to their demise in the ‘70s.

One of the most substantial extras is a History Channel documentary about Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal. This is an informative, fact-based contrast to the stylish, fictionalized version in Casino.

Finally, there are production notes.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
view all DVD reviews by JD Lafrance

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Rating: 92%

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