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CASINO
10th Anniversary Edition

Review by Gordon Justesen

Stars: Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Alan King, Kevin Pollak, James Woods
Director: Martin Scorsese
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, French Dolby Digital 5.1, Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio: Universal
Features: See Review
Length: 179 Minutes
Release Date: June 14, 2005

"In the casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and to keep them coming back.  The longer they play, the more they lose.  In the end, we get it all."

Film ****

Martin Scorsese and the mafia add up to pure cinematic brilliance.

After he achieved filmmaking brilliance with 1990’s GoodFellas, I’m sure many were surprised when Scorsese decided to do another mob epic. It may have also come across as a surprise that Scorsese would reunite with co-screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi to construct yet another entirely fact based story involving the mob. The result was Casino, not only one of the best movies of the 90s, but for me, it ranks as Scorsese’s 2nd best all time film, right behind GoodFellas.

Just as Pileggi adapted the screenplay for GoodFellas from his book “Wise Guys”, he, along with Scorsese has adapted the screenplay for this film from another one of his books, “Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas”. It chronicles the mafia’s last “hurrah”, if you will, in the land of glitz and glamour known as Las Vegas, which lasted for a ten year period beginning in 1973.

The film opens in 1983, with mob-employed numbers runner Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro, in one of his true great performances) getting into his car, which then explodes. What unfolds in Casino is a vibrating epic-scale tale of money, greed, obsession, love and violence. It represents one of the boldest and most outstanding pieces of filmmaking Scorsese has ever brought to the screen.

The story told through flashbacks, accompanied with the always invigorating Scorsese technique of consistent voice over narration from the main character, or as in this case, multiple main characters. It is told not only through Ace’s point of view, but that of his lifelong friend/connected mobster Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci). Both men strived for dominating power in Vegas, but went for it through entirely different methods.

The first hour of the movie plays like a riveting semi-documentary revealing how things got started. Ace is sent to Vegas by the mob bosses in Kansas City to run the biggest casino in Las Vegas, The Tangiers. Previously a numbers runner for the mob, his bosses were so impressed by his winning streak as a bookie that they saw a prominent cash machine for them in what was then a town which was run by greed and fear.

With all the loads of cash Ace is helping to bring in, the mob sends out Nicky, a key mob enforcer, to shadow Ace and protect him from rival thugs and the cops. But Nicky, a hothead with a flaming temper, is tempted to go into business for himself, thinking Vegas could make him an untouchable. With Ace trying to become a legit casino operator, and Nicky using violent methods to gain power, their friendship will soon deteriorate and become a fierce rivalry.

Added to this, Ace encounters something unexpected after arriving in Vegas, love. The night he spots the beautiful Ginger (Sharon Stone) winning a craps game, he falls in love immediately. Before long, the two are in very much in love, and despite her reservations, Ace proposes marriage to her. This would be a good idea if Ginger didn’t still have feelings for a pimp/former boyfriend (James Woods).

As the years progress, tensions mount, betrayals are made, more and more bodies are being buried in the desert, and the mob finds their once reigning empire slowly crumbling. Ace starts to lose trust in both his wife and the man who was once his friends. Ginger is soon becomes addicted to drugs and booze, and Nicky starts attracting unwanted attention to the point that Ace doesn’t feel comfortable being linked to him in the papers.

Things only get worse from this point on. Before long, Ace is brought to court on charges of fraud, Nicky is being watched 24/7 by the feds, and Ginger’s drug habit spirals out of control. The last half of the film pretty much illustrates how both sources of Ace’s trust betray him in the blink of an eye.

Some have tended to unfairly label this as a GoodFellas retread, and nothing could be farther from the truth. For one thing, this is an entirely different story that took place at different setting. One element that always seemed to be attacked was Joe Pesci’s trigger happy character. The actual truth here is that Pesci is even more despicable, more violent, and much more psychopathic than his Tommy DeVito in GoodFellas could ever be.

Like in all of his films, Scorsese brings an uncanny level of authenticity and detail to Casino. The blazing assortment of music, as in GoodFellas, is as grand a music collection as you’ll ever hear in a single movie. And because he has applied the unique energy and pace to this epic film, Scorsese has made a three hour movie that is never boring for a second. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in all the action that goes down, and that’s all attributed to Scorsese’s brilliant filmmaking qualities.

Casino remains a breathtaking, magnificent movie experience with each viewing. It’s a masterful piece of work that only a filmmaker like Martin Scorsese could deliver to the screen with sheer brilliance.

Video ***1/2

Universal’s striking anamorphic picture remains a tremendously clear and largely detailed picture. Robert Richardson, a frequent Scorsese collaborator, has delivered one of pieces of cinematography to date. The image is most bright with a great quantity of light and color to go around. Las Vegas has never looked more amazing! Several, but brief, shots don’t fare as terrifically as others, but the all around presentation adds up to a most amazing looking one, if nothing else.

Audio ****

The ultra-strong 5.1 mix supplied here makes the most of anything and everything occurring in the movie. There’s so much sound action on display here, that I’m a bit amazed that the mix was able to get a hold of every inch of distinct sound. Music playback is a strong note, as expected, as are the momentary violent sequences. Dialogue delivery is distinctly clear as can be, and notable set pieces come into the surround sound play in flawless form. Simply well handled!

Features ****1/2

Despite the absence of a Scorsese commentary track, which is always a big treat, Universal has brought to the table a superb level of bonus items for this Anniversary Edition, which is dual sided. Substituting for a commentary track on the movie side is the extra Moments with Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone, Nicholas Pileggi and more.

Flip the disc over to score even bigger with Deleted Scenes and five intriguing featurettes;Casino: The Story”, “Casino: The Cast and Characters”, “Casino: The Look”, “Casino: After the Filming”, and “True Crime Authors: Casino with Nicholas Pileggi”.

Summary:

Casino is back and better than ever in this new Anniversary Edition release. If you’ve never seen this cinematic masterpiece, there’s no better time than now to discover one of Martin Scorsese’s truly great films.

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