Evening kids, AT here. I'm carrying on the Scorsese flag waving for a little while longer. Boardwalk Empire gives me an excuse. (As if I needed it).
Casino is massively underrated. Criminally so.
I get the Goodefellas love in as much as the next person, but to let that affect your verdict of Casino is plain daft. And it does affect your view, doesn’t it?
As I was watching, I wrote notes for the review…
Credits. Pen in neck. Fuck. Silence. Hammer/Money, or just Money – not both.
I’ll start with the credits. Sam Rothstein starts by telling us he had it all, in voice over. So far so good. He gets in his car, after a masterful, but by Scorsese’s standards fairly basic tracking shot. Then BOOM. The car blows up, and we are in to possibly my favorite credits sequence ever. A series of casino images, all done to show the colour and verve of what is to come. But what’s this? Is that Sam falling? As motives go, it’s fairly obvious but it works. This is Sam’s descent into Hell. Into madness. All with a glorious orchestral bang. It grabs you, and won’t let you go. At the end of it, when De Niro's voice over is literally interrupted by Nicky’s (Pesci's) voice over, you may as well buckle up. For the next twenty minutes it’s voice over all the way, along with a fascinating insight into the world of casinos. All the while it’s hard to forget… Did De Niro just blow up in the opening thirty seconds of the film??
Casino is Goodfellas bastard brother, in that is vibrant in its use of colour. It seems to know it though. And if there is a “fuck it, Goodfellas is done for us” vibe, from Scorsese, De Niro and Pesci then I applaud it. This is a film about detail. From De Niro's suits matching his mood, down to counting the number of blueberries in each muffin.
I can understand a bit of the disappointment that surrounded it, but I always thought that would subside over the years. It reminds me of the reaction to The Green Mile just after Shawshank Redemption. It’s not like it’s the first non-sequel where fans can’t distant it from the original. In that instance too, fans are just wrong, wrong, and wrong for me. But that’s the beauty of film, I guess. Even when Scorsese is making gangster films, you can’t please everyone.
Incidentally, I heard someone saying the other day they weren’t enjoying Boardwalk Empire. Wow. Poor them. I mean that.
So… the pen in the neck. It’s impossible to not draw comparisons again. This time with the ice pick in the back of the neck in Goodfellas. The difference being, that was one quick stab. Here? In what is essentially his introduction? Pesci gets to go to town. It’s pretty horrific. De Niro's reaction while it’s all going is familiar, but it’s an important scene. It shows us that Nicky is a live wire. Far less controlled than Tommy in Goodfellas, which sounds ridiculous to say, I know. Scorsese wants us to know something else, though. As he cuts to slow motion, and we get a close up of both, Nicky looks unsure. He looks sideways. He’s not looking for approval. He knows he over reacted (and then some). He knows he is uncontrollable. Essentially, he knows he is going to fuck it all up. De Niro? His look says it all. He is disturbed. He can’t trust Nicky. He knows that between them, they will both fuck this up. He has to keep Nicky from joining him at the Casino at all costs – regardless of the protection he knows he will offer.
Fuck. I went over my swear limit, that’s for sure. Apologies to the parents if reading, and anyone reading a Casino review that had no clue there may be coarse language. There’s lots of it in Casino, of course. Famously so. And do you know what? I don’t think it’s gratuitous. I know that sounds crazy. But the bottom line is that is how a lot of people do talk, when they slip into their comfortable mode. And after Goodfellas, which fantastically is meant to include 2.04 “fucks” per minute, what were you expecting?
This isn’t just about swearing, mind. Scorsese pulls some master strokes.
Take the moment Sam sees Ginger, (Stone, career best, end of). From all of that sound to about ten seconds of silence. It’s brilliantly realized. When she finally does look at him? Love is strange. Whoaaooaa. Perfect. Not least because I first heard that song in Dirty Dancing. It’s like Scorsese is taking it back.
Then, the scene where we get to see what happens when you cheat at cards. The genius of this is the build up. Sam noticing the dealer isn’t in on it, but is weak. Kneeling down to see the gent on the other table, noticing the cards, then signaling. Cut to the table, and a close up of the winnings. Sam’s voice over saying how everyone gets beaten by greed. He’s never getting it wrong. Betting on wins every time. Then, inside his trousers, to see the old school Morse code messaging set up the two cheats have. Straight out the back, after a quick cattle prod, then a busted hand. When his mate thinks he’s got away with the chips, they pull him back in. (wink).
It’s the build up to Casinos mini set pieces that make me come back, over and over. It’s an insight; I notice new things each time. Like sometimes I see it from Gingers point of view. That she never really asked for this life. Other times, I understand Nicky’s frustration that he’ll never be number one, unless he takes it for himself – probably with an ice pick to the balls, and a head in a vice. (Wince).
Casino is due a dusting off. When did you last see it? Watch it tonight. I implore you. It may be one of the greatest tales of having it all, then losing it ever. One of the best love stories ever told, maybe.
Can I trust you? Can I trust you? Can I trust you?
Love, (Whoaaooaa), Love is strange…