Revisiting Martin Scorsese's 1995 Film; "Casino"

Revisiting Martin Scorsese’s 1995 Film; “Casino”

Martin Scorsese’s Casino should need no introduction; as far as cinema goes, this film is an operatic masterpiece and a genuine tour de force of storytelling. Casino is one of the greatest instalments in Scorsese’s oeuvre, showcasing his signature style of gritty realism and pulling unforgettable performances from its all-star cast. Rewatching it almost 30 years after it was created highlights just how well this movie has stood the test of time. 

Background and Synopsis 

Released in 1995 and set in the 1970s, Casino was based on the real-life story of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a Las Vegas casino mogul with seedy connections in Sin City’s underworld. The film stars Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci in some of their most iconic roles and features stunning cinematography.

The movie follows the story of Sam “Ace” Rothstein (De Niro), a professional casino player and sports handicapper who’s brought to Las Vegas to oversee the running of the Tangiers Casino. He’s been handpicked for the job by some powerful people who want to hold even greater control over the establishment. As he gets to work, Sam quickly realises that running a casino is no easy feat, and the introduction of Ginger McKenna (Stone) into his life complicates things even further. 

Meanwhile, Joe Pesci plays Nicky Santoro, an enforcer who’s sent to Vegas to assist Sam with his operation. As that infamous ‘pen’ scene shows, Nicky is a ticking time bomb who spells trouble for Sam and everyone around him. 

Scorsese’s Love Affair with Vegas

One of the most striking aspects of Casino is how Scorsese portrays Las Vegas and casino culture in the film. He shows a world of glitz and glamour, where the party is in full swing, and the hustle never stops. 

The legendary director’s vision of Vegas might come as a culture shock for Gen Z viewers who are more used to the interactive slot games that are the bread and butter of digital platforms like PokerStars Casino. Casino is very much a love affair to 1970s Las Vegas; Scorsese’s use of colour and choices in cinematography not only showcases the key themes of the film but also paints a vivid, hyperreal image of Sin City that lingers long after the credits have rolled. 

For instance, bright neon lights and the opulent decor that fill the screen in casino interior shots indicate the theme of excess that runs throughout the film. Furthermore, the lingering camera shots of the extravagant costumes worn by the characters highlight their lavish lifestyles and the lengths they will go to in order to maintain them. Sweeping shots of the city and its mega-casinos, meanwhile, serve to emphasise the garish, larger-than-life nature of the Vegas gaming world. 

Another important theme in the film is the concept of power and control. As the story progresses, we see multiple characters vying for control in several areas of their lives. Scorsese expresses the nuances of the power struggles in his use of colour, with characters often dressed in dark suits and surrounded by shadows to signify internal conflicts and hidden agendas. As well as being an engaging stylistic choice, Scorsese’s strategy to use a mixture of high-angle and low-angle shots paints a vivid picture of which characters are in positions of strength. 

Career-Defining Performances

Of course, given that Casino boasts such an all-star cast, stellar performances were very much on the cards. However, upon rewatching Casino, it’s clear the movie is packed with career-defining portrayals.

As Rothstein, De Niro is performing at his absolute best. Cool, calm and collected on the outside but seething with rage and frustration on the inside, Rothstein is a complex anti-hero, and De Niro plays him with just the right amount of gravitas to remind viewers of his humanity.  Sharon Stone delivers a stand-out portrayal of Ginger McKenna, imbuing her with a touch of tragedy underneath an alluring, fiery exterior. In fact, it’s not too much of an overstatement to say that Stone is a revelation in the role — which netted her a Golden Globe win and an Oscars nod.

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