Tag Archives: Martin Scorsese

Casino – An Explosive Movie Ride!

1995 film Casino
Source: flickr.com

Las Vegas, often referred to as Sin City, is the setting for legendary director Martin Scorsese’s violently fascinating 1995 film, Casino. Set in the 1970s and early 80s, the film chronicles the mob’s infiltration of Vegas through the lives of several characters, most notably Sam “Ace” Rothstein, played by Academy Award winner Robert De Niro, Ginger McKenna, played by Academy Award nominee Sharon Stone, and Nicky Santoro, played by Academy Award winner Joe Pesci. In the movie’s opening scene, a car blows up and the body of Ace is seen soaring through the air. How did this happen? The movie goes back in time to detail the events that led to this explosive outcome.

What’s it About?

De Niro’s Ace is a gambling handicapper who is drafted by the ruthless Chicago Outfit (Chicago Mafia) to oversee the day-to-day operations at Las Vegas’s Tangiers Casino. Here, Ace takes advantage of the lax gaming laws, which allow him to run the casino in spite of his still pending gaming licence. What’s more, he’s a whiz at numbers, doubling the casino’s profits so that the mob can skim it before reporting any earnings to the income tax agencies. Impressed, the big mafia bosses send Ace some muscle for protection – in the deadly form of Ace’s childhood friend, Nicky.

Ace and Nicky are characters that exist outside the rules, who are able to get things done, and what better city for them to realise their violent fantasies and insatiable appetite for power than Sin City herself – a place where day and night don’t exist. Scorsese and his screenwriter, Nicholas Pileggi, understand that Vegas is also a city built on hope – where, if you’re lucky, you can win millions in an instant. They also understand that people can be incredibly unlucky here, too. So, it isn’t a surprise when things start going horribly wrong for Ace.

His first mistake is befriending Nicky when they were children. Running protection for Ace’s entire Vegas operation as an adult, it isn’t long before his volcanic temper starts causing problems. Soon he is banned from every casino in Vegas, so he starts engaging in independent burglaries and shakedowns instead. In short, he’s a loose cannon and making everyone nervous. Then there is Ginger, Ace’s second mistake. She’s a beautiful and charming con artist / call girl, whom Ace falls hopelessly and obsessively in love with, when he meets her in the casino. The problem is, she’s also a self-destructive drug addict, with a soft spot for her former boyfriend and pimp, a loser named Larry, played by James Woods.

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It isn’t long before Nicky and Ginger become the noose that tightens around Ace’s neck. Add to that his battle with a county commissioner, the FBI closing in on him, and his souring relationship with the mob, and you have the hallmarks for a Shakespearean-type downfall – yes, Ace’s luck is about to run out. Or is it?

Casino is a stunningly long film – almost 3 hours in running time – but it has all of Scorsese’s flair, as well as scintillating performances. De Niro and Pesci effortlessly inhabit their roles, while Stone as Ginger, delivers what many considered to be her finest performance – she received a Golden Globe award and an Oscar nom for her efforts.

Based on a True Story

The screenplay was written by acclaimed scribe, Nicholas Pileggi, and based on his novel, ‘Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas’. What’s interesting to note is, that while Pileggi had written the book and wanted it to be released before the movie, Scorsese persuaded him to release it after, instead. The novel chronicles the real-life antics of Chicago bookmaker, Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, his friend, and fellow Mafioso, Anthony Spilotro, and Lefty’s wife, Geri McKee. The film, on the other hand, takes certain liberties with their story, which is why Scorsese and Pileggi decided to change the names of the central characters – Lefty became Ace, Anthony became Nicky, and Geri became Ginger. The result is one of the defining movies about the mafia, gambling, and Las Vegas.

Final Thoughts

Casino is a truly fascinating account of violent and destructive characters, as well as the years the mob controlled some of Sin City’s biggest casinos – before the corporations took over and Sin City became a little less sin-full. Sit back, grab your popcorn, and enjoy the ride!