Before Casino, I did not just sit down and watch movies. Movies were to me what white noise machines are to other people ““ a sound generator to keep me from getting bored when doing repetitive tasks, like knitting or FOIL algebra problems. All it took was Robert DeNiro in Martin Scorsese’s 1995 mafia crime drama to change how I viewed films for, well, I can’t say forever because I’m not there yet, but I’ve been really keen on movies ever since.
Casino was not exactly a follow-up, but sort of tied in with Scorsese’s film, Goodfellas, which was released in 1990 and has been sitting up on the pedestal of gangster flicks for the past two decades. Inspired by the real life of Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Nicholas Pileggi, the author of Wiseguys (which was later adapted into Goodfellas by Scorsese and Pileggi), decided to write a book and screenplay about the role of the mob in 1970s Las Vegas. Sin City certainly lived up to its name.
Casino chronicles the rise and fall of the influence of the mob in the casinos in Las Vegas. Robert DeNiro, plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein (based on Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal), who is sent to Las Vegas by the mob to oversee the operations of the Tangiers casino (hence the title). Joe Pesci comes in as Nicky Santoro, a ““ you guessed it ““ mob enforcer whose main task is to make sure that the mob gets their money and none of the mobsters get too big for their britches. It’s Joe Pesci doing what Joe Pesci does best ““ getting loud, and violent in the name of organized crime.
While in Vegas, Ace meets Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), a dancer and hustler, and falls in love with her. Ace and Ginger eventually marry, after Ginger has Ace’s child, but Ginger is much less enthusiastic about the marriage than Ace. The trio (Ace, Nicky, and Ginger) get caught up in a swirl of their desires, obligations, and duties. Like in Goodfellas, the rise and fall of the mob is chronicled through and mirrored by the main characters’ personal lives.
It’s hard to describe what it was like watching this movie for the first time. Robert DeNiro is a perfect fit for Martin Scorsese and the two while, OK having maybe an occasional misfire, work together beautifully here. DeNiro is self-possessed, alternating between threatening and charming, and subtly switching between being a passive player for the mob and an active man for himself. Pesci is Pesci and that’s a hell of an experience ““ a short, stocky man, Pesci is all the more threatening for looking like someone unlikely to be threatening.
Some movies chronicle a series of events that leads to an inevitable outcome. It’s a hallmark of Coen Brothers movies and they do it well. Here, and in Goodfellas, Scorsese manages the same trick – we see the inevitable ending, but we cannot look away. The inevitable becomes compelling through the characters, and that’s what sells the movie.
How about you? Have you seen any movies that made you fall in love with film? What movie changed how you viewed movies?