Martin Scorsese is only good at making one kind of movie… Gangster movies. I know this is a bold, generalised statement but recently I have been hugely disappointed with Scorsese “classics.” I didn’t enjoy Raging Bull as much as I thought I would and thought Mean Streets was even worst. Taxi Driver is considered one of his most iconic and best films but I failed to find anything amazing about that film either.
I do rate a lot of Scorsese films though. Goodfellas is an incredible movie and The Departed is one of my favourite films. It seems like Scorsese produces his best films when they centered around gangsters and organised crime. I know this is a generalisation because there is a case to be made for Shutter Island or The Aviator, amongst others, but I rate his films about gangsters and crime above all others and Casino fits firmly in that category too.
Its testament to Scorsese that he can make a compelling film that has a running time of almost three hours but surprisingly, I was engrossed for the whole film. The story builds slowly and gives each character time to develop. The relationship between Robert De Niro’s Sam and Joe Pesci’s Nicky is a journey in itself and one that deteriorates and strains as the film develops. Like Scorsese’s other gangster films, this is a complex, multi-layered story that never baffles or over-complicates. It’s very easy to try to make a film where there is lots of double-crossing and “trust no-one” but instead of going down that route, we get a well delivered, gripping story about a man trying to make it in the Vegas gambling industry.
Goodfellas is probably one of my favourite films and that is mainly because of Pesci’s great performance as Tommy. Nobody plays dark, unhinged and terrifying like Joe Pesci. To think this is the same guy who tried to steal from Macaulay Culkin is unthinkable. One of the best parts of Casino is that Pesci is playing a very similar character. Nicky is just as unhinged, unpredictable and terrifyingly violent as Goodfellas Tommy ever was and it makes for compelling viewing.
Along the same lines, De Niro plays the silent, calculating and equally as unhinged character well too. He is slightly different to his Goodfellas role, as he is the main protagonist and slowly becomes a man desperate and overwhelmed as his world unfolds around him but De Niro carries this effortlessly. I would rate this as one of De Niro’s best performances and its shame there isn’t more films where he gets to play against Pesci.
It’s also testament to Scorsese that he has managed to get a decent acting performance from the usually average Sharon Stone. I struggle to see why she is such an icon (other than for that very infamous interrogation scene) and apart from this, I can’t really remember a film where I think she is any good. She actually has a lot to do in this movie and manages it really well. It makes me wonder why she hasn’t got more iconic roles to her name, other than Basic Instinct and Catwoman.
It seems like ages since a film I had heard was a “classic” actually lived up to that title but Casino definitely manages it. It isn’t a straight forward gangster story and doesn’t seem to repeat any of the clichéd requirements we have seen countless times before. The ending does have a bit of a far-fetched element but this can be easily overlooked because its such an interesting, engaging and gripping movie.
Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by Casino considering it feels like ages since I’ve seen a decent Martin Scorsese movie. Pesci and De Niro give fantastic performances in a story that is gripping, compelling and told in a solid, interesting way. It just leaves me hoping Scorsese will make more gangster films because they seem to be the only type of his films that I enjoy.
(1 – Awful, 2 – Average, 3 – Good, 4 – Great, 5! – Must See)