|Casino (1995; Universal Pictures)|
Director: Martin Scorsese
Writer: Nicholas Pileggi
Starring: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone
For anyone noticing a distressing lack of Scorsese on my list, here you go. As the modern master of these long character epics, Scorsese has built his career on telling the tales of the underbelly of urban America. Casino, his stab at Vegas greed and mob influence, is by far one of his best films. I say this for a number of reasons, but most of all it comes down to how he reveals these characters to us.
Casino’s plot is somewhat hard to narrow down as it covers the lives of these characters over a time span measured in years. It centers on powerful Casino boss ‘Ace’ Rothstein (De Niro), who, along with his partner Nicky Santoro (Pesci) manage a successful Vegas enterprise while dealing with conflict and facing down scammers and hand-shaking high rollers. As the story goes on, Rothstein’s own past and ways, as well has his greed, slowly begins to catch up with him.
Casino isn’t as quotable as Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, but what it lacks in those films’ sharpness, it makes up for with a complex and layered plot that never seems to go too far off the rails, hanging on just enough to remain entertaining without becoming convoluted. The film goes into technical and business aspects of a Vegas casino as well, some of which are creepy and some are just plain amazing. Scorsese's’ direction is spot-on, too.
Directorially, scenes flow together in a near-seamless fashion despite being often separated by months or years. The narrative sort of moves in rhythm to the flow of the scenes, overlapping then resolving in a somewhat unconventional way. Over time we see the disintegration of these characters, proving once-and-for-all that gambling is a dirty business, so who better to show us its dark side than the man who does it best?