Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Casino



Casino seems to be generally viewed as a rehash of Goodfellas, with director Martin Scorsese revisiting similar ideas with a similar cast, and not doing much to set it apart from his most recent gritty classic. Casino is basically just the same movie with more of everything - more violence, more swearing, a longer running time. So is it wrong that I actually like Casino more than Goodfellas? Yes, it's a somewhat excessive movie in some places, but isn't that the point? It's a movie about excess. It's based on the true story of America's most notorious criminal network during their most overtly violent and influential period operating in one of the world's biggest stages for pure capitalism. Las Vegas is bringing in obscene amounts of money, a ton of it is being stolen right off the top, and people got murdered left and right to keep them quiet. It would be disappointing if the movie wasn't over the top. And I enjoyed the hell out of it for most of its nearly three hours of running time.

The story stars and is heavily narrated by Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci playing mob guys from Chicago. De Niro is Ace, a Jewish money guy who gets tapped by the family to run one of their casinos, and Pesci is Nicky, an enforcer who's there to back him up. Both the actors and the characters have a lot of history together, and the movie returns to the unstable relationship they had in Raging Bull, though this time it's Pesci who's the crazy one. The Chicago accent prevents him from seeming like a total rip-off of his own character in Goodfellas, and if anything he's even more out there with his short temper and tendency towards extreme violence. Lots of people end up getting stuck in holes in the desert, and he's responsible for a lot of them. As time marches on and the feds keep building their case against them, they struggle to avoid killing each other as they continually blame each other for all the problems they have. Compounding the issue is Sharon Stone as Ace's wife, an out-of-control hustler/junkie who is even more manic that Pesci, those less prone to stabbing you for messing with her. She has a sleazy ex-boyfriend played by James Woods who does a lot to sell his scumbag nature without much screen time, and he instigates a lot of their marital troubles. Mob movie regular Frank Vincent is also around as one of Nicky's guys, and he does a solid job.

The three central figures are interesting, and while I eventually got kind of sick of Stone's overwrought performance, the combination of business and personal problems that pile on top of them over the course of the story add up to a hectic, exciting, wild ride. And it might be a pretty good movie with just that, but this is Martin Scorsese we're talking about, and this is probably the single greatest display of style and invention I've seen from him. There are long tracking shots that mix with extremely quick cuts that are narrated over by two different characters and all sorts of little touches and interesting moves that you don't really see anywhere else, and they all add up to a film that is almost too fun to watch. The soundtrack is filled with tons of period music that both tells you where you are in history and fits perfectly with the action, and it's hard to go five minutes at any time without seeing something new. It might be style over substance, but it also might be one of the best examples of that ever put on film. I like mob stories because they make you feel things you shouldn't for very bad people, and Casino does that almost as well as any movie you can name. I wasn't blown away by Goodfellas, and while I can see why people would be and why they would prefer it to Casino, I just can't agree with sentiment. The Godfather is the best crime movie ever made, and Casino is one of the most entertaining. The violence is hard to watch like violence should be. The family drama is painful like family drama should be. It's just a visceral, thrilling experience the whole way.

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