Gangster Movie Month: "Casino" Review

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Greed, deception, money, power, and murder occur between two mobster best friends and a trophy wife over a gambling empire
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Gangster Movie Month: "Casino" Review

-- Rating: R
Length: 178 minutes
Release Date: Nov. 22, 1995
Directed By: Martin Scorsese
Genre: Biography/Crime/Drama

"Casino" gives audiences a thrilling peek into the workings of the Mafia and the grip that it had on Las Vegas during the 1970s and 1980s. Award-winning director Martin Scorsese and a star-studded cast play out a thrilling story that peels back the glitter and glamor of Las Vegas to show what was at its core-greed, loyalty, corruption, crime, and power.

Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro), known to his friends as Ace, is sent to Las Vegas by members of the Mafia to oversee the Tangiers casino and ensure they are getting their share of the revenue. Ace quickly discovers that as long as he keeps the local political officials happy, funnels money to the Mob, and spots the scam artists before they can do any damage, his job will be very lucrative. The people who sent Sam to Las Vegas are pleased with his accomplishments, and they decide to send enforcer Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) to Las Vegas to protect him and the casino.

Although the two were childhood friends, they soon begin to travel different paths. Nicky's violent temper makes its appearance and quickly gets him blacklisted from every casino in the city. He then begins a series of shakedowns and burglaries that soon turn into a full-blown protection racket. Sam, on the other hand, has learned to enjoy living the high life, and he decides to look for love.

He finds it in Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), and the two marry and start a family. Sam soon realizes that his trophy wife marries for money and not for love. Ginger embarks on a relationship with Lester Diamond (James Woods), her con man ex-boyfriend, eventually running away with him and Sam's daughter, Amy. Sam coaxes her back, despite her addiction to drugs and alcohol, only to have her begin an illicit affair with Nicky. When she puts Amy at risk for a night of passion with Nicky, Sam finds this out and ends the relationship for good.

In the meantime, Sam manages to anger one of the local county commissioners, Pat Webb (L.Q. Jones), when he fires his son-in-law. Until now, Sam has managed to fly under the radar and manage the casinos before being granted a casino license. Webb retaliates by quietly convincing the gaming board to reject Sam's application. He makes a television appearance where he goes public about the city government's corruption, which only serves to anger the mobsters that sent him to Las Vegas in the first place.

In the end, the FBI eventually gets the evidence it needs and begins to dismantle the Mafia's Las Vegas operations. Ginger, who has wound up penniless, dies from a drug overdose. The Mob tires of Nicky's antics and orders that he be murdered. The casinos that Sam called home are purchased by corporate America and torn down to make way for family-friendly casinos that cater to tourists rather than gamblers. Sam finds himself in San Diego where he becomes a sports handicapper for the Mafia. The good-versus-evil scenario has run its course.

"Casino" is based on the real influence the Chicago Mafia had on Las Vegas and some of the mobsters who were involved. Screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, who worked with Martin Scorsese on the 1990 hit "Goodfellas," is the one who convinced Scorsese to help write and direct the movie. Scorsese had already become an American icon, having directed such films as "Alice Doesn't Live Here Any More," "Raging Bull," and "The Color of Money."

Robert De Niro, who had already appeared in several Scorsese films, was not new to mobster movies. By the time "Casino" was filmed, he had already won acclaim for his portrayal of Vito Corleone in "The Godfather" franchise, as well as Al Capone in "The Untouchables."

Sharon Stone was convincing in her role as the quintessential trophy wife, although it was somewhat of a new role for her to play. Until now, she had appeared in movies such as "Basic Instinct" where she was the one with the money. Stone was the only one to walk away from "Casino" with a major win, taking home a Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture.

Joe Pesci was no stranger to De Niro when they made this film. The two had appeared together in "Once Upon a Time in America" and Scorsese's "Raging Bull." He was also known for his roles in the "Lethal Weapon" franchise, "Goodfellas," and "My Cousin Vinny."

Other notables who appeared in the film include Kevin Pollak as Phillip Green, Don Rickles as Billy Sherbert, Alan King as Andy Stone, and Dick Smothers as Senator Harrison Roberts.

Rating 4 out of 5