Robert De Niro
Released in 1995, Casino is a Martin Scorsese film about a team of mobsters (loosely based on real people) who attempt to run a highly corrupt casino in 1970's Last Vegas. Everything seems to be on the right track, they even have a prominent politician in their pocket, until some key personal relationships in the mix start crumbling.
Robert De Niro is Sam Rothstein, who runs the Tangiers casino in Vegas for the Chicago mob and he does so as professionally as one could under the circumstances, even going as far as to micro-manage matters on the casino floor. When an old colleague, Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) arrives in town with the hope of making a name for himself in the city, Sam becomes nervous since Nicky's way of operating is known to make a lot of noise.
Indeed, the bodies quickly start piling up and the FBI starts paying closer and closer attention to the Tangiers and the people running it. Sam's messy marriage to hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone) also makes waves due to her ongoing relationship with con-artist, pimp and ex-boyfriend Lester Diamond (James Woods). Between Nicky's over-the-top violent ways and Ginger's clashes with Sam, the latter finds it increasingly difficult to manage his operation quietly and this prompts the mob bosses to make some big changes in the business.
We're in very familiar territory with Casino. The film instantly feels like a companion piece to Goodfellas in many ways and it's easy to see why critics weren't quite as excited about Casino seeing as Goodfellas was released only a few years prior and made a huge impact. In terms of their presentation, both films rely on very fast-paced storytelling, mostly driven by voice-over, with Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci playing similar kinds of roles (Sam is more level-headed while Nicky is a loose canon). It is a shame that Goodfellas would always overshadow Casino because the latter is very close to being just as good in every way.
One of the big things that differentiates Casino from Goodfellas is the even sleazier vibe established by the Vegas setting: James Woods is a natural at playing the slimeball pimp and Robert De Niro's colorful suits are a tacky delight. Sharon Stone's Ginger is the film's most valuable wild card as, through her relationship with her ex-boyfriend, her obsession with money and constant hysterical outbursts she is always one step away from total self-implosion. It's a great performance and it earned Sharon Stone an Academy Award but one would argue that Joe Pesci would have deserved one too as he is especially diabolical as Nicky.
There's really not much wrong with Casino: it's another effortless masterpiece from Martin Scorsese. It just feels too much like Goodfellas for its own good. The performances are all top notch, the film looks fantastic and the writing is as sharp as ever. There are just not many surprises here, and that hurts what is otherwise a must-see quite a bit.