Lights, cameras, action – Martin Scorsese’s 1995 crime epic Casino reveals the glitz and grit behind Las Vegas. Loosely inspired by real events, it charts the rise and fall of sports handicapper Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) as he receives a gaming license to run the Tangiers casino, only to get drawn into mafia money schemes by his loose cannon pal Nicky (Joe Pesci). Through propulsive narration and virtuoso style, Casino pulls the curtain back on how mobsters, the FBI, and Sin City itself are all in bed together.
Scorsese immediately plunges us into the chaotic 1970s Vegas strip through kinetic tracking shots and flashy costumes and sets. Thelma Schoonmaker’s rapid-fire editing earned a richly deserved Oscar nod, gracefully juggling multiple storylines. The classic rock soundtrack punctuates the rat-a-tat energy. A voiceover narration by De Niro intricately details the players and politics running this desert playground empire built on vice. The world-building proves masterful.
Of course, De Niro anchors things with gravitas and sly humor as ace player Ace, who can’t help being drawn deeper into the mob mire. Equally strong is Pesci as loose cannon Nicky, who can switch from funny to frighteningly violent in a flash. Sharon Stone deserved her Oscar nod as Ace’s hustling wife Ginger, who complicates things. The power dynamics between this trio provide crackling drama.
Now I won’t spoil Scorsese’s intricate plot maneuvers and character clashes! But he excels at gradually upping the stakes as legal and illegal collide in surprisingly intimate ways. We see the glitz of Vegas obscure its seedy financial realities and the hubris behind its gangster foundation. For Scorsese, Casino becomes an allegory about American ambition and greed run amok, destined to taint anyone who comes near. Few films capture such depth beneath the razzmatazz.
Is Casino just Scorsese covering familiar ground? At times, yes, but through the distinct lens of Las Vegas excess. No one films psychotic wise guys, betrayal, and the ensuing carnage with his virtuosity. And the details on casino operations and mob enforcement prove enlightening, playing like a criminal documentary under the hood. De Niro and Pesci also share some of their most memorable onscreen moments.
Upon release, Casino earned acclaim but some disdain for its similarities to Goodfellas. Over 25 years later, its reputation has grown as an immersive and intimate sprawl dissecting greed. Let Scorsese and De Niro be your tour guides through the glamour and rot within America’s playground. Then see if you still want to gamble.