Scorsese, De Niro, Pacino, Woods - this A list combo would pretty much scream “top notch gangster movie”, but add Sharon Stone, an actress both ravishingly beautiful as well as being at the peak of her acting prowess and Casino takes on that rarest of rare qualities - a movie that is all things to all people - thought-provoking, hard-hitting, realistic and supremely stylish.
Scorsese chooses Robert De Niro as his anchor man for Casino in much the same way that the mob chooses De Niro's alter ego, Sam 'Ace' Rothstein to run their Las Vegas branch of illicit money laundering and general illegal activities. Rothstein relishes his new role of all round casino supremo and his bosses are happy - the money is rolling in! But hot on his heels comes Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), Ace's friend, ally and general all-round psycho. Santoro wants in on the action, and what Santoro wants, Santoro gets. And it's these two actors/characters that makes Casino such a great movie - De Niro/Rothstein, as he finally coming up trumps landing his ultimate job as casino head honcho, and Pesci/Santoro who is always at home wherever he may be... as long as his violent outbursts have an outlet - and Las Vegas in the late seventies seems the perfect place to him! What's interesting here is that De Niro, despite his on screen persona garnered from films such as Goodfellas and Cape Fear, never really takes it upon himself to behave in a violent manner; when gamblers are found cheating at his casino Rothstein makes it clear that word gets around what happens to those caught - time for a bit of the old hammer bashing fingers routine. And when a man down on his luck expresses his depression by putting his feet up on the table Rothstein has no quibbles making sure the guy is ushered out - head first. And time and again when his wife, Ginger (Ms. Stone) frequents her talentless ex pimp, Rothstein makes sure that Lester Diamond (Woods) gets the message to stay away. In all these scenarios Ace gives the orders, but never actually gets involved personally. No, the role of mob hard man/psychotic is left for Joe Pesci to get his teeth into. Santoro stabs a guy in the neck with a pen, batters someone with a phone and generally involves himself in the kind of physical unpleasantness that towers high above someone of such short stature. The fact that Pesci carries this off is not only testament to his acting prowess, but also Scorsese's faith in his actor's abilities.
Special mention should be made of Sharon Stone's role in this movie. Ginger's character seems to be the antithesis of Rothstein's, but whilst they both share a seemingly limitless desire to “make it” Ginger simply cannot break out of her “common” roots - no amount of money can buy happiness, and in Ginger's case class is pretty hard to come by also. As their marital relationship spirals downwards to the very depths of despair, it seems to mirror Rothstein and Santoro's demise through mob ranks. True to form, they both deal with this demise as their movie characters would suggest - Santoro takes violence to new extremes, whilst Rothstein gambles with his very existence.
Scorsese is on top form here, and Casino is a classy look at the way things used to be in Las Vegas. For sure things have changed now... haven't they?!