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movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Casino

Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci
Director: Martin Scorsese
Rated: R
RunTime: 179 Minutes
Release Date: November 1995
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Sharon Stone, James Woods, Kevin Pollak, Don Rickles, Alan King, L.Q. Jones, Dick Smothers, Frank Vincent

Reviewer Roundup
1.  Steve Rhodes review follows movie reviewmovie review
2.  Jerry Saravia read the review ---

Review by Steve Rhodes
2 stars out of 4

CASINO is a disturbing show by the great director Martin Scorsese (MEAN STREETS, TAXI DRIVER, RAGING BULL, THE KING OF COMEDY, GOODFELLAS, CAPE FEAR, and THE AGE OF INNOCENCE). Scorsese is obsessed with evil and violence. Think of him as the Darth Vader of directors, and yet, his work is frequently brilliant. His THE AGE OF INNOCENCE was my second favorite movie of 1993. (To answer your question, GETTYSBURG was number one for me that year). Scorsese has a talent of which most directors can only dream.

Like the FBI warnings on the front of video tapes, let me warn all viewers who are incapable or unwilling to see movies with extremely graphic and arguably gratuitously violent scenes, you should pass on this movie. Feel free to read the review of course. I will cover the gory aspects at the end when I discuss its ridiculous mere R rating.

We are told that CASINO is a fictional show with fictional characters that was adapted from a true story. This means the audience hasn't a clue as to how true or realistic any of this is. I bought some parts, but doubted others. The degree of reality was not a big issue for me in this picture.

CASINO starts in the year 1983 with Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert De Niro) being blown to bits in a mob hit in Las Vegas. It then flashbacks back to ten years earlier and spends the rest of the movie slowly working back to 1983. It seems that Ace is one of the world's best gamblers since he does the research to make sure his bets are all sure things. He makes so much money for the mob that they make him manager of their Tangiers casino in Las Vegas. He is a consummate businessman and turns the Tangiers into a highly efficient operation that is a money pump for the mob.

The mob bosses stay safely in Kansas City, and they send a runner once a week to skim money off of the top of the casino's take. When the runner comes, Ace and everyone else turn their heads. Ace has a series of titles at the casino to keep one step ahead of the gaming commission, but the casino is nominally run by a puppet director of the Teamster's Union pension fund, Phillip Greene (Kevin Pollak). It turns out all you had to do then to work in a casino was apply for a license, actually getting one was unnecessary. It took ten years to process the application, and so long as you change titles every few years, your application would go to the back to the bottom of the stack thus ensuring that any unsavory past and any mob connections are never discovered. This and the details of operating a casino is the best part of the show. I collected tons of fun trivia about how pit bosses work, how card cheating schemes are detected, etc.

Eventually Ace, the Albert Speer of the casino business, has his world complicated by the arrival of his old mob friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci). Ace just wants to run a "clean" casino and spend his time figuring out more innovative marketing techniques. Nicky, on the other hand, wants to use mayhem and murder to arrange payoffs from everyone in all of the casinos, but especially in the Tangiers. Since Nicky is a made man, and Ace is Jewish, Nicky holds the upper hand with the mob.

To further complicate this picture, we have Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna. Ginger is a hooker, an alcoholic, and a heavy cocaine user whom Ace falls in love with and marries much to the chagrin of her sleazy pimp, Lester Diamond (James Woods).

CASINO is told in a long series of narratives with all of the leads and feature actors getting their chance to tell their version of the story. Actually most of the movie is told in narration that is periodically interrupted to let the whole cast get a chance to speak. In one scene the action freezes while the actor tells why he is going to chose to say what does. I found this extreme narration approach intriguing, but ultimate tiring. In fact, one of the chief problems with CASINO is that at about three hours long, it overstays its welcome.

The best parts of the movie are the costumes by John Dunn II and Rita Ryack. Ace wears one iridescent suit after another - orange, peach, lime green, cranberry red, salmon, chartreuse, you name it, but always with a contrasting solid colored shirt and tie. To complement this, the violent Nicky sticks to dull grays and black outfits with little character. I think the costume designers are a shoe-in at award time. I believe they must have used Crazy Glue to attach a cigarette to Ace's hand since he has one in every scene in the movie. The sets by Dante Ferretti are fun too - full of solid gold rather than pink flamingos as well as other tributes to the bad guys' bad taste.

There is no bad acting in CASINO. Stone plays the most complex role of her career and amazingly is pretty good at it, but I still liked her best in BASIC INSTINCT. Most of her movies have been terrible, but she does have talent in addition to good looks. De Niro is one of the best actors alive today, but I found Ace to be of his least interesting roles. I got tired of Ace after a while. Woods has a small but well done role as a wasted loser. Pesci was a little too out of control for my taste, but it was a good piece of acting.

Now about that violence. In CASINO you will get to see heads with large holes shot into them at close range followed by blood spurting everywhere. Bad guys will yank pencils out of people's hands and stab them in the throat. You have to endure seeing a man's hand being smashed with a hammer and the sounds of the bones being broken as the bloods gushes out. In the most disturbing of all of the images, men are killed with baseball bats with the sound of large bones snapping and blood flowing everywhere, and then you get to see them buried alive. You can handle that? Great, you are certified to see this film. Whether you want to or not of course is another matter. I found myself watching my back in the parking lot when I left the theater; I had lost a little trust in my fellow man.

CASINO runs a little under three hours, but your seat will feel like it is at least five due to the plodding pace by editor Thelma Schoonmaker. The movie is rated R by the MPAA which is is a travesty. This movies is clearly NC-17. With the aforementioned heavy violence, heavy cocaine and alcohol abuse, sex, and constant smoking, it deserves an NC-17. I do not think is appropriate for teenagers. Actually, with much tighter editing, say an hour less movie and even if they left in all of the gore, I could recommend this movie to adult audiences with strong stomachs. As released, I give it a mild thumbs down and award it **.

Copyright 1995 Steve Rhodes

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