Robert De Niro……….Sam “Ace” Rothstein
Sharon Stone……….Ginger McKenna
Joe Pesci……….Nicky Santoro
James Woods……….Lester Diamond
Don Rickles……….Billy Sherbert
Alan King……….Andy Stone
Kevin Pollack……….Phillip Green
Frank Vincent……….Frank Martino
Universal Pictures and Syalis D.A. & Legende Enterprises present a De Fina/Cappa production. Written by Nicholas Pileggi and Scorsese. Based on the book by Pileggi. Running time: 179 minutes. Rated R (for strong brutal violence, pervasive strong language, drug use and some sexuality.)
“Running a casino is like robbing a bank with no cops around. For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It’s like a morality car wash.” – Sam “Ace” Rothstein
Las Vegas is a city of desire, of temptation. As the sun sets, daylight gives way to a nightlife full of mystery and intrigue. A moment where people make the rounds betting fifty here, a hundred there, hoping a roll of the dice or the turn of a card will make their day.
Unfortunately, lady luck is not always on their side. Likewise, over the years Vegas has been flooded by vacationers; turning the once majestic city into the Entertainment Capital of the World. Definitely not the adult-oriented enterprise the Mafia had once envisioned in the mid-seventies.
Playing poker games for fun and joy after a hard day’s work can surely make you feel relaxed. There are so many poker games that are available some are for more high stakes like agen poker than others and some that are more fun oriented. High stake poker games are for those who are a little more skilled in playing the game.
Some people choose to play the fun oriented poker as a way to relax and socialize with people. Players can decide on which one is the best game to play and sometimes even set up a weekly get together for fun, while others choose to go to the casino’s to play.
In Sin City everything is fair game. Sex, drugs, money. Whatever your vice Vegas makes the impossible possible. Director Martin Scorsese examines these vices and the Mafia in dramatic fashion in what can only be considered a follow-up to his film Goodfellas. Casino pulls back the curtains to reveal the Mafia’s relationship – or is it love affair? – with Las Vegas.
Nicholas Pileggi, who co-wrote the film with Scorsese, had unfettered access to Franky “Lefty” Rosenthal, a guy who ran four casinos for the mob. It is his true story that inspired Robert De Niro’s Sam Rothstein character and the plot for the movie. Lefty worked as a sports bookie in Chicago. He was so good with numbers the mob considered him to run casinos. And like Lefty, Rothstein had the proficient businessman-look that worked for the City of Lights. Sam runs the casinos with an iron fist. Watching everything that takes place on the casino floor. From time to time he will encounter cheaters and scam artists; but Ace isn’t one to get his hands dirty.
Enter Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), Sam’s childhood friend from Chicago. Now this guy is the meanest of the mean. A thief and a killer who comes to Vegas to act as an enforcer. When two Irishmen shoot up a mob-controlled drinking establishment, Nicky and his goons apprehend one of the killers and administer their own form of cruel and unusual punishment. And boy do they make an example of him. Squeezing his head in a vice and slashing his throat.
In many respects Casino parallels Dante’s Inferno. Even the opening scene gives the illusion of Sam Rothstein descending into the depths of Hell. Following a car bombing, Saul Bass’s title sequence (Vertigo, Psycho) has Ace’s silhouette floating through the air, cascading down the bright lights of The Strip.
For the first third of the film Martin Scorsese shows Ace rising to prominence and explains – almost in documentary form – how the mob skimmed millions out of the casinos.
Adding to the documentary structure is the use of narration by Rothstein and other characters. Most of these voice-overs came directly from Pileggi’s interviews with Lefty Rosenthal. If you have ever seen Spike Jonze’s Adaptation, then you know screenwriting expert Robert McKee frowns upon inner monologues. “God help you if you use voice-over in your work….That’s flaccid, sloppy writing.” But for Pileggi and Scorsese, the sloppy writing works. Describing the actions on screen helps illustrate the scams inside the casino. And, in a way, it’s almost like we are eavesdropping on the conversation. Hearing things we shouldn’t be hearing.
Cheating comes with a heavy price, though. Unlike today, casinos back then took care of problems internally. There’s an episode where two men are scamming a blackjack table. One man is sitting at an adjacent table and he’s feeding his partner the numbers with a transmitter. Casino security walks up to him, jabs him with a stun gun, and rushes him away to the “back room.” What’s the old adage, “win if you must, lose if you will, but always cheat”? Sorry, but Mafia enterprises don’t like to be pinched. Attempting to do so will leave you with some broken fingers. Or worse. Nicky could have you killed.
If the first part of the film explores Sam’s rise to power; the last half details his fall from grace. Never one to go looking for trouble, Ace finds it twofold.
Nicky’s viciousness spelled the beginning of the end to Mafia control of Vegas. His exploits were severe. So much so that he becomes blacklisted. His friendship with Ace didn’t help matters much. The newspapers around town started linking the two together even though Ace didn’t want anything to do with Nicky or his thugs.
The other catalyst was a sultry, high-priced call girl named Ginger (Sharon Stone). When Sam sees her making a scene in the casino, he is instantly enthralled. Ace hopes to win her heart, treating Ginger to extravagant gifts. Sadly, this hooker has no heart of gold. Even with cars and diamonds and a home with a pool she didn’t want to give up her profession. So, Ginger frequently reverts back to her hooking ways with a pimp named Lester (James Woods). But, a key to a safety-deposit box changed everything. The moment Ace gave her the key to the two million dollar fortune all I could think of was Pandora’s Box.
Ten years after its theatrical release, Casino holds up remarkably well. Martin Scorsese has a knack for taking flawed characters and making them interesting. Sure, Sam Rothstein is a bad guy; but there is an intrinsic quality about him that is appealing. Like the relationship he has with his daughter. On the casino floor he uses expletives to make a point. At home he is a loving father, discarding his tough-guy persona.
Sharon Stone, in her best performance ever, has the look of a blonde-haired beauty raised on the wrong side of the tracks. She’s an independent woman who survived by her assets. But with Sam she lives a sheltered life. This drives her to drink and snort cocaine with her daughter present in the room. From her taste in clothes to her droopy eyes you get the feeling that she has lived the life of a call girl for a very long time. Like maybe her pimp Lester was a family friend who abused her when she was just a teen.
While most of the credit goes to the director and his stars, do not forget the supporting cast. In a strange twist of fate Scorsese casts legendary comedians such as Don Rickles and Dick Smothers – who honed their skills working the Vegas hotspots – as mafia goons and crooked politicians. Rickles doesn’t talk much, but his presence is felt. Standing passively by the boss with a look of desperation in his eyes.
Casino is a gangster film without remorse, without limitations. Or is that a characterization of Sin City? Either way, Scorsese proves that Las Vegas is a town where a man can seemingly lose it all, but is able cash in with an “Ace” up his sleeve.
VIDEO: How does it look?
One should not expect a Las Vegas with muted colors. Especially when the film has an anamorphic widescreen presentation of 2.35:1. So be amazed at the “All-new digitally remastered picture!” That’s what the back cover states, anyway. Having never rented or owned the original Universal Pictures DVD I can’t compare the two transfers. While watching the film, though, I do notice that some work was probably done to the film print. There is still a problem with dirt in the print, and a slight popping, but it isn’t very apparent. The new-and-improved transfer also benefits Robert Richardson’s lighting scheme. Those bright city lights will really set your soul on fire.
AUDIO: How does it sound?
Like Warner Bros.’ Aviator release, I’m surprised this DVD didn’t come with a DTS soundtrack. Whether it’s gunshots, foul language, or hit songs from the seventies, DTS could have enlarged the atmospheric feel of Casino. Since Scorsese’s picture is on one side of the disc, and extras on the other, it pretty much eliminates DTS possibility. Still, the Dolby Digital 5.1 is acceptable, pulsating through your home theater setup. In addition to the Dolby 5.1 mix, the DVD has a Spanish and French soundtrack.
SPECIAL FEATURES: Features stacked on top of more features!!!
Prior to writing about this feature-laden release I wanted to let it be known that this Anniversary edition is not a two-disc set. Universal had the bright idea of issuing the DVD as a single disc release. On Side A is the film. Flip it over to Side B to find the extras.
This just doesn’t work for me. If there is scratch on the disc, it could affect both the movie and the extras. Two discs are a better alternative.
Looking on the bright side, the extras are fun to watch. They’ll keep you entertained for close to two hours. But if you listen to Moments with Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone, Nicholas Pileggi, and More!, which can be accessed while watching the film, that’s another three hours right there.
“Moments” is a bit of a letdown, though. Basically, it plays like a collection of old audio clips that have been spliced together. Whenever there is a new speaker you hear an anonymous voice indicating who’s talking. It’s strange. You’ll be listening to Martin Scorsese speak and then out of nowhere a voice goes, “Editor. Thelma Schoonmaker.”
The only other extra on Side A are forced trailers every time you pop in the disc. I will admit I got quite a thrill seeing that a special edition of The Big Lebowski was in the works.
Flipping the disc over you’ll be treated to four featurettes, an NBC News special and a History Channel program.
Casino: The Story (8:15) features comments by Nicholas Pileggi, Martin Scorsese and producer Barbara De Fina on how the film came about. In many respects Casino is a sequel to Goodfellas. Both examine how greed and overindulgence can corrupt a criminal enterprise like the Mafia. Prior to production, Pileggi had an outline for the book he was writing for Casino. Most of the information came from court documents and transcripts. Since he couldn’t finish the book in time to adapt it to film, Scorsese used the outline and the numerous notes Nick gave him. It is interesting to note that former mob members wanted no part of Pileggi or Scorsese. So the moviemaking twosome published an ad in variety that said Robert De Niro was starring in the picture. After reading this, mob guys welcomed Pileggi with open arms. Thus proving that even the Mafia has a soft spot for De Niro.
The cast and characters of the film are assessed in the 20-minute program Casino: The Cast and Characters. Martin Scorsese has a relaxed working relationship with De Niro. Having collaborated eight times I should think so. The consummate professional, De Niro is a creature of habit. He is one of those actors who likes to get into character. So he met Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal a couple of times and talked to him on the phone.
Sharon Stone appears in the featurette as a “talking head”, but she gives good insight to her character Ginger. Auditioning for the role was a tumultuous experience for Stone. She showed up for the first audition; Scorsese did not. The second time Scorsese got stuck on a train that by shear happenstance broke down on its way to the audition. There would not be a third time, or so Stone thought. By that point she was fed up. She got a call from Scorsese while in a restaurant pleading for her to audition. No way, Jose. Hanging up the phone she raises her head to see Scorsese standing at her table. She was convinced.
The two spoke for an hour and Scorsese admitted he had seen all of her movies. Even King Solomon’s Mines. During production Stone was concerned how she would handle her part. It got to the point where she would keep pestering Scorsese with notes and questions. He instilled in her to push her character. And push she did.
Switching gears from the main cast are stories about the film’s technical advisor, Frank Cullotta, and the supporting cast. Cullotta, who was the inspiration for Frank Vincent’s Frank Martino character, has a small role in Casino. He plays a Mafia enforcer who properly performs how a mob guy would shoot a gun. Also, adding to the realism of the film is the use of real cops, real pit bosses and card dealers. It’s the attention to detail that makes all the difference.
Casino: The Look is the third featurette on the disc and focuses on the visuals that defined Scorsese’s picture. The look of the film is very important because it is a period piece set in the mid-seventies and early eighties. Production designer Dante Ferretti is a master craftsman, building sets and finding the right shooting locations so he can dress them properly. By going to the local library and pulling books from the shelves, he found what he needed to give the film a larger than life feel.
The film also makes great use of archived news clips and on location shoots. To get the look just right for Ace’s casino, Scorsese and Ferretti scoured all of Las Vegas. They found two casinos that would work, eventually convincing the Riviera to allow them to shoot the movie in their establishment. Problems persisted shooting in the casino; crowds would gather while the cameras were rolling.
The costume design and the cinematography are the last two characteristics discussed in this 16-minute program. Rita Rack explains how they transformed De Niro into Rothstein. All it took were bold colors and about 70 different outfits. Interesting to note that Lefty Rosenthal had to approve each suit De Niro wore in the film. Director of photography Robert Richardson accentuated the bold colors by using hot spots to light the shoulders of the characters. The combined efforts of Scorsese, Rack, and Richardson only helped to give Casino its distinctive look.
Casino: After the Filming is a nine-minute segment where the production acted as one extended family. Here’s what Pileggi means by family. When Nick and Scorsese were working together they were a family. Then shooting started, and the actors became a family. Wrapping up in post-production the editors were a family. Scorsese was the father shepherding the film to completion.
At 179 minutes, Scorsese and producer Barbara De Fina were concerned about the financial implications because theaters won’t get as many showings as it would say airing a two-hour picture. It may have been a bust at the box office, but it definitely recouped the production costs on home video.
Following these four featurettes, the deleted scenes are a chance to slow things down. Running three minutes long, these rough-cut scenes don’t really look like deletions at all. More like ad-libbing and flubs between the cast and crew.
Vegas and the Mob (13:42) appears to be an NBC News special that probably aired on Dateline. This story gives a short history of organized crime in Sin City. Through archived footage, we view Las Vegas as a place that is continually transforming itself. Like Joan Rivers, Vegas has been altered many times over.
Even with new hotels and casinos the Mafia’s presence is still felt today. Bugsy Siegel’s dream of turning the old desert town into a mob-controlled city of gambling and wicked desires became a reality, but at a heavy price. Siegel was executed because his Flamingo casino didn’t succeed at making a quick buck.
Mob lawyer turned mayor Oscar Goodman comments how Vegas has changed over the years. His comments spliced together with archival footage acts as a companion piece exploring events neither Scorsese nor Pileggi touched upon in Casino.
Courtesy of The History Channel we get a documentary entitled History Alive: True Crime Authors – Casino with Nicholas Pileggi. Running 43 minutes and change, interviews and reenactments of actual events, photographs and classic footage explain the true crime nature of the mob’s involvement with Las Vegas. Both this and “Vegas and the Mob” are the best special features, because they provide realism – exploring topics outside the realm of costumes or set design. Author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi is the documentary’s main subject. He talks about his working relationship with gangster Henry Hill, which produced Goodfellas, and how that moviemaking experience urged him to write a follow-up story. Unlike the other featurettes, this program immerses the viewer with historical footage and photographs from real life events that inspired Pileggi to detail in written prose.
The last feature is twenty-seven pages of production notes you can access with your remote control. Here you can read Scorsese’s vision for Casino and how it compares to some of his other works.
The film alone merits a recommendation. But when you factor in the documentaries and featurettes, well that catapults the 10th Anniversary of Scorsese’s epic into the “must buy” category. If only there was a director’s commentary from Scorsese. That would have given the extras score a nine, maybe even a perfect 10!