Casino

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Scorsese, doffing the ill-fitting penguin suit of The Age of Innocence, goes back to gangsters and to the scriptwriter of Good Fellas, Nicholas Pileggi. One major drawback here is the same drawback as there, only bigger (or rather, at three hours, longer): the brunt of the storytelling is entrusted to first-person narration, this time two voices in alternation, Robert De Niro's and Joe Pesci's. Some worthwhile information does come out — notwithstanding the fictionalizing of the factual names — about Mob operations in Vegas from the Seventies into the Eighties. But in large part — unacceptably large part — the flow of info has not been shaped into playable drama, into incidents, into scenes, into visuals. It's just testimony, data, research, oral report: disembodied yackety-yak accompanied almost without cease by rackety rock (the Rolling Stones, the Moody Blues, Roxy Music, Fleetwood Mac, Cream — what's the relevance of this playlist?). Another major drawback, more exclusive to Casino and a little less applicable (by half an hour) to Good Fellas, is that the "epic" length is not bolstered by anything in the nature of an epic story. Despite distorted echoes of Camelot and the Arthur-Guinevere-Lancelot triangle, Casino tells a seamy, tawdry, diminishing little tale of how a wandering wife ruined a Good Thing. The much derided Sharon Stone, as the hooked hooker who can't or won't go straight, gives as good as she gets in her exchanges with De Niro, but Pesci, a Scorsese fixture, has become a complete liability. He is made out to be (by that didactic narration, mainly) a homicidal psychopath of terrifying ferocity, yet what we are looking at on screen is a dumpy little middle-aged guy with an obvious hairpiece and face-lift. If the visuals of the movie ever win out over the verbals, it's there. (1995) — Duncan Shepherd

Rated R
"National Crime Museum names their five favorite gangster films"

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Casino was hugely underrated by critics and audiences at the time of its release. Yes, its horribly violent(but purposely so) in places, it drags and overdoes on the voice-over and ultimately pales in comparison of Scorsese's fresher, more inspired Goodfellas. Yet, this is a remarkable, brutal and totally engrossing experience with dislikable yet ultimately human characters, a mostly gripping and exhaustingly detailed narrative and outstanding production design. This is real cinema; bold, beautiful, shocking, vivid and unmissable. Rediscover it.

Nov. 18, 2008

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