Casino

Released:  1995

Cast:  Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, James Woods, Frank Vincent, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak

Oscar Nominations:  Best Actress (Sharon Stone)

SUMMARY:  Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro) is a successful gambler in New York, renowned for his ability to pick sports winners.  Sam is Jewish, and therefore not able to be officially inducted into the mob, but in the early 1970s they do give him a position running the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas, while clean businessman Philip Green (Kevin Pollak) is the face of the casino and the Teamsters (who own the casino and are run by the mob).  Sam is allowed to to run the casino without a gaming license, provided that his license is pending, and he quickly makes changes.  He gets rid of scammers among the clients and the employees in the casino, and doubles the profits.  Of course, the Mafia skims some of the proceeds off the top.  Eventually Sam is doing so well that the bosses back East send out Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) to protect him.  Sam and Nicky have known each other since childhood, but now Nicky is a made man.  Nicky brings his crew out with him, and in addition to his job protecting Sam, begins to engage in small-scale operations of his own, like extortion and burglary.  Sam warns him that this type of behavior will not fly in the casino world, but Nicky doesn’t listen.  Sam turns out to be right, and Nicky manages to get himself banned from every casino in town.  However, he doesn’t let this stop him:  he continues to operate his schemes outside of the casino, and opens a jewelry store as a front and money launderer.  Meanwhile, Sam is having his own problems.  He has met and instantly fallen for experienced con artist Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), and wants to marry her.  However, Ginger outright tells him that she does not love him, and Sam knows that she is unable to resist her old boyfriend, pimp and small-time con Lester Diamond (James Woods).  Sam protests that she may eventually develop feelings for her, and promises to take care of her for the rest of her life, no matter how their relationship turns out.  Ginger agrees to marry Sam, though they have a daughter, Amy, first.  Only a short time into their marriage, Sam learns that Ginger is giving Lester money.  He has some of Nicky’s men attack and beat Diamond while Ginger watches.  While this serves to scare Diamond off (at least for a while), it also severs any affection Ginger has for Sam, and makes her turn to alcohol (and eventually drugs).  Sam is also having trouble at work, after firing an incompetent employee who is related to important government officials.  When Sam refurses to rehire the employee, even after a personal plea from one of the relatives, the relative gets the gaming commission to examine Sam’s gaming license, which is still pending.  Sam and his lawyers prepare furiously for the hearing, but the relative has also arranged to have it denied immediately.  Sam blames Nicky and his reputation for this disaster, and the two have a ferocious argument that essentially ends their friendship.

More problems arise when the money counters begin skimming f0r themselves from the counting room, which Sam has no jurisdiction over.  The Kansas City arm of the mob sends one of their men out to investigate, but when he gets disgruntled with having to pay his own way, he begins writing down all of his expenses in a notebook, as well as openly talking about his displeasure in his legitimate business — which is bugged by the FBI.  Ginger’s alcohol and drug addictions have become severe, and her reckless behavior concerning their daughter prompts Sam to ask for a divorce.  Ginger is sure that Sam will hang her out to dry, so she takes Amy and goes to California, where she meets up with Lester Diamond again.  Despite her threats, she soon comes back, and the two seem to reconcile.  However, neither’s feelings have changed, and Ginger even discusses having Sam killed, a conversation that he overhears.  She leaves, or is kicked out by Sam, several more times, but comes back every time.  During this process she begins talking to Nicky for advice and comfort, and the two soon begin an affair.  Of course, Sam finds out about it, and angrily tells Ginger that she will not get any money from him (despite his promise before the marriage, which Ginger still clings to).  After all the fuss she has caused, Nicky also breaks things off with Ginger.  She eventually drives her car into Sam’s house and gets police help in retrieving her things, as well as the key to a safe deposit box stuffed with $2 million.  However, she is soon arrested by the FBI in connection with Sam’s crimes.  By now, the FBI has enough evidence to move in on the casino.  Nicky manages to get out of Vegas before they come to him; Sam is given an offer to cooperate with the government, but he declines.  Ginger goes to Los Angeles, and eventually dies of a drug overdose.  One morning Sam’s car is bombed:  he survives due to a special steel plate under his seat.  Though the mob bosses are eliminating anybody involved in the casino scam, Sam believes that Nicky is responsible.  However, the bosses get to Nicky first, having him savagely beaten and buried alive for his attention-drawing behavior.  The casinos themselves were demolished, with new ones being put up by big businesses instead of the mob.  Sam lives through the ordeal and eventually moves to San Diego, where he goes back to his old business of sports gambling.

MY TAKE:  I think that the more mobster movies I see with Joe Pesci in them, the more I appreciate his roles in Home Alone and, in particular, My Cousin Vinny.  The latter is one of the few times that Pesci actually played a good guy, though he still has a thick New York accent and Italian background.  He’s such a good bad guy that it’s a little weird to see him as a hero, but it’s also really funny.  He’s obviously a good actor, as he can completely break typecasting and do comedic roles.  He’s a robber in Home Alone, but the movie’s still a comedy, and he’s not actually a gangster.  None of the mobsters he portrays would ever be outsmarted by a kid, or have a ding-dong like Marv for a partner.  This movie is a pretty typical Scorsese movie:  it’s about the mob, it’s got Robert De Niro, and it’s pretty violent.  And there’s a lot of f-bombs.  The scene where Nicky is beaten and buried alive is particularly gruesome, and I found myself looking away for a lot of it.  It is a pretty good movie, especially since it’s based on a true story.  What I couldn’t believe was that Sam was dumb enough to marry a known hustler like Ginger, especially when she’s got this fixation with her lowlife ex-boyfriend Lester.  To compound his stupidity, Sam makes her the only one who can access his emergency money.  He says that this is because she’s the only one he can completely trust, but if I were him I would have kept the keys to myself.  There is no honor among thieves, and not much among the mob.  For all their talk about loyalty and family, history and mobster movies teach us that nobody is untouchable, and somebody is always out to get you.  Sam was doing a great job of running the casino until Nicky and Ginger came along:  Nicky wasn’t his fault, and there wasn’t really anything he could do about it, but Ginger was completely his fault.  He picked maybe the worst girl possible to marry.

RATING:  Good, but violent and profane-ridden.

 

 

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