Play It Again – Casino


By Simon Miraudo
July 2, 2013

Play It Again is a weekly feature in which our classic-film connoisseurs revisit a revered motion picture from the annals of movie history, to see if it holds up… or if it has aged terribly. And yes, it takes its name from a famously misquoted Casablanca line (hey, whatever; it fits!).

Casino is the black sheep of Martin Scorsese‘s crime family. The lesser sibling of Mean Streets, Goodfellas, and The Departed, and among the least of his collaborations with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci, it ranks highly on only one chart: features that frequently drop the F-bomb (398 deployments over 178 minutes, making it the fifth most ‘f***’ heavy film ever, Wikipedia informs us). Its legacy today: it inspired Jane Austen’s Mafia! Hence its dubious reputation.

Penned by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi (who wrote the book upon which this is based), Casino is a slight retelling of real events that went down in the 1960s and 70s. Though it leans heavily on a narrative structure that keeps it from ever really taking off (extensive narration from our two leads), there are still great moments in here. It’s only good, however, moment to moment. As a whole, Casino never really congeals like Marty’s other masterpieces.


De Niro plays Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein, a small-time bookie who impresses the mob enough to be installed as manager of their Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. Pesci co-stars as Nicky Santoro, the short-statured, short-tempered childhood friend of Sam hired as his and the casino’s enforcer. The two of them explain via voice-over pretty much every moment of their rise to power and catastrophic fall from grace with the enthusiasm of men fulfilling a court-ordered obligation. One of their underlings (eventual Sopranos vet Frank Vincent) is also allowed the opportunity to elucidate his motivations at one point via offscreen commentary. Even the talkative Henry Hill would tell these guys to shut their traps.

With De Niro and Pesci playing variations on their well-worn personas, only Sharon Stone – as former grifter and prostitute Ginger McKenna – reveals some previously unseen talents, working entirely without vanity as she devolves into a scheming, mentally ill drug addict trapped in an empty marriage with Rothstein. The presence of Don Rickles as Ace’s right hand man is another treat. Pesci, meanwhile, employs a bizarre Chicagoan accent; the second oddest auditory decision he’s ever made, after that one time he released a rap song. Nonetheless, it’s still a real pleasure to see him threaten and torture low-ranking gangsters (memories of poor Spider from Goodfellas lingering, always).


Casino is Scorsese’s ‘messy drawer’ of a movie; disconnected scenes and stylistic odds and sods. It feels very much like a Scorsese flick; in fact, considering the soundtrack selections, extreme violence, religious allusions, and occasional operatic flourishes, it might be his most idiosyncratic. Yet it might also be one of his most unsatisfying, with its great sequences often deflated by the pace and the generally disinterested-seeming voice-over (which, I can’t stress, seeks only to take the wind out of the picture’s sails). Casino is Fredo to Goodfellas’ Michael, if I can reference the work of another filmmaker entirely to make a point.


Check out Simon Miraudo’s other reviews here.

Casino is now available on Quickflix.

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