Casino is often viewed through the lens of Goodfellas. My reaction is normally to reject this—no, this isn’t one of the best 20-25 films of all-time—but it’s better than almost anything else and should be appreciated in that regard. But, it’s complex because film studies and evaluation aren’t done in a vacuum—there’s a history here both in Scorsese’s oeuvre and Scorsese’s relation to cinema’s artistic past. – almost all of Kubrick’s films are different from each other—but Hitchcock often made and remade similar films or flat out remade himself (The 39 Steps/North by Northwest or literally remaking his own film with The Man Who Knew Too Much) or take Ozu for example, he remade Floating Weeds and his Late Spring/Early Summer/Tokyo Story/Late Autumn all have so much in common in content and visually. These films – including Goodfellas and Casino– cement the legacy of their auteurs- they HAVE a style- they don’t diminish.
It is 178 minutes long- nearly 3 hours- and it’s made with Scorsese’s trademark boundless energy- obsessive detail- as Ebert says, “Scorsese leaves his indelible signature on every frame.”
Elaine and Saul Bass’s breathtaking opening credit Vegas light sequence- Saul Bass would die in 1996 and sadly this is his last collaboration with Scorsese (they worked together from 1990-1995 in 4 films)
After the credits Scorsese tracks in on De Niro at a Wellesian low-angle with the lights in the ceiling as background- jaw-dropping.
Like Goodfellas we get the dueling voice-overs—here mainly De Niro and then Pesci—complete with hilarious titles like “Back home years ago” and Pesci’s voice-over getting interrupted as his body on the screen is getting hit with a bat at end
Mediations on sin, greed—but also a procedural on the mechanics of how everything works at the Casino and the narrative is endlessly fascinating- a very easy rewatch. The camera movement, innovative editing and music keeps it brisk, it’s alternatingly funny, violent, enlightening
Freezing De Niro in the paparazzi flash bulb—that’s an interesting paper to be written on Scorsese and the flash bulb (think Aviator, Raging Bull)
De Niro’s Sam Rothstein is a perfectionist—anal retentive and I think there’s a bit of an autobiographical look at Scorsese (a man who perfects every frame in a 3 hour film). De Niro’s Rothstein weighs in his dancers, needs an equal amount of blueberries in each muffin, doesn’t let his dealers splash the chips, sits at a desk with no pants on because he doesn’t want them to wrinkle… fascinating character and De Niro perfectly performs him and is perfectly cast
I think we’re at 7 or 8 Rolling Stones songs here (this whole thing is wall to wall music) if you count “I Can’t Get No Satisfaction” by Devo in the 80’s era
Slow-motion shot of De Niro, Pesci with smoke rising in the frame—another one, used before in 1986’s The Color Of Money with three heads stepping into the frame- beautiful work yet again
Use of freezes galore—the one on the introduction of Sharon Stone to the doo-wop — very similar to how Cybil Shepherd is shot in slow-motion to get you in the head of De Niro falling in love in Taxi Driver through film style. Wes Anderson would do this to great effect with Luke Wilson falling in love with Gwyneth Paltrow in The Royal Tenenbaums
The first of 5 (to date) collaborations between Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson (Oliver Stone’s go to at this point in 1995 and future QT collaborator- the other 4 are Bringing Out the Dead, Aviator, Shutter Island, Hugo)
So I have a theory here on Casino—the wall-to-wall soundtrack score, the voice-over, it lasts almost the entirety of the film. There’s not a ton of pausing in a scene for back and forth dialogue and story. I think this form gives Scorsese such freedom with the camera. He isn’t tethered to pick up sound or anything—in a way it’s not dissimilar from other cinematography masters (moving of the camera like the David Bordwell definition) Bela Tarr or Sergio Leone. Both of these auteurs (and countless others—Tarkovsky) would dub their films, even in their native language, to let the camera roam and worry about (and design) the sound later
Scorsese borrows the Agnes Varda Cleo From 5 to 7 triple-elliptical edit here on Sharon Stone again through the POV of De Niro to great effect
A few years before Gilliam would use it in Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas– Scorsese here has Pesci and De Niro driving down the strip at dutch angles or canted angles to let the neon lights bounce off the car window- brilliantly accomplished
The 3 leads are doing top-level work- De Niro is very strong, Pesci gives a riff on his Goodfellas performance—he adds a walk like a bulldog. Stone is the only one who got a nom but that’s a shame. De Niro and Pesci are doing great work. They make for such great sparring partners (here, Raging Bull)—it’s a testament to both that the other isn’t just blown off the screen. The supporting cast (a snake-like James Woods, Frank Vincent (back from Raging Bull and Goodfellas) is very excellent as well.
Costume work—De Niro’s suits—meticulousness with Scorsese
A great shot across De Niro’s glasses in the desert— in almost any other film it’s easily the highlight of the film—here it’s one of 25 highlights
Another genius shot is across the Gold Rush with Pesci in close-up
The narrative even gives Frank Vincent a shot at voice-over for the first time with 142 minutes in
Like Goodfellas (before) and Boogie Nights (after)—the 1980’s spell doom for our protagonists—coke, arrogance, carelessness and paranoia – their downfall
From one of my favorites- “Combustible Celluloid” “Casino never stops moving, and Scorsese constantly packs the frame with odes to pizzazz and style”
Ebert— “Scorsese tells his story with the energy and pacing he’s famous for, and with a wealth of little details that feel just right.