Casino (1995)

Movie


Casino (1995)

This Martin Scorsese film depicts the Janus-like quality of Las Vegas--it has a glittering, glamorous face, as well as a brutal, cruel one. Ace Rothstein and Nicky Santoro, mobsters who move to Las Vegas to make their mark, live and work in this paradoxical world. Seen through their eyes, each as a foil to the other, the details of mob involvement in the casinos of the 1970s and '80s are revealed. Ace is the smooth operator of the Tangiers casino, while Nicky is his boyhood friend and tough strongman, robbing and shaking down the locals. However, they each have a tragic flaw--Ace falls in love with a hustler, Ginger, and Nicky falls into an ever-deepening spiral of drugs and violence.
USA
France
IMDb   8.2 /10
Metacritic   73 %
TheMovieDb    8.0 /10
RottenTomatoes
FilmAffinity   8.1 /10
Information
Release Date1995-11-22
Runtime2h 58mins
GenreCrime, Drama
Content RatingR (R)
AwardsTop Rated Movies #139 | Nominated for 1 Oscar. Another 4 wins & 10 nominations.
CompanyUniversal Pictures, Syalis DA, Légende Entreprises
CountryUSA, France
LanguageEnglish
Sam 'Ace' Rothstein
Ginger McKenna
Nicky Santoro
Lester Diamond
Billy Sherbert
Andy Stone
Phillip Green
Frank Marino
Jennifer Santoro
Artie Piscano

Casino (1995 film)

Casino is a 1995 American epic crime film directed by Martin Scorsese, produced by Barbara De Fina and distributed by Universal Pictures. The film is based on the 1995 nonfiction book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi, who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Scorsese. It stars Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, Joe Pesci, Don Rickles, Kevin Pollak and James Woods. The film marks the eighth collaboration between director Scorsese and De Niro.

Casino follows Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), a Jewish American gambling expert handicapper who is asked by the Chicago Outfit to oversee the day-to-day casino and hotel operations at the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. Supporting characters include Nicky Santoro (Pesci), a "made man" and friend of Sam, and Ginger McKenna (Stone), a streetwise chip hustler whom Sam marries and has a daughter with. The film details Sam's operation of the casino, the difficulties he confronts in his job, the Mafia's involvement with the casino, and the gradual breakdown of his relationships and standing, as Las Vegas changes over the years.

The primary characters are based on real people: Sam is inspired by the life of Frank Rosenthal, also known as "Lefty," who ran the Stardust, Fremont, Marina, and Hacienda casinos in Las Vegas for the Chicago Outfit from the early 1970s until 1981. Nicky and Ginger are based on mob enforcer Anthony Spilotro and former dancer and socialite Geri McGee, respectively.

Casino was released on November 22, 1995, to mostly positive critical reception, and was a worldwide box office success. Stone's performance was singled out for acclaim, earning her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.


Plot

In 1973, sports handicapper and Mafia associate Sam "Ace" Rothstein is sent by the Chicago Mafia to Las Vegas, Nevada to run the Tangiers Casino. Front man Philip Green serves as the casino and hotel CEO, but Sam unofficially runs everything. Sam quickly doubles the casino's profits, with cash skimmed directly from the count room before it is tallied and delivered to the Midwest Mafia bosses. Chicago boss Remo Gaggi sends Sam's childhood friend and mob enforcer Nicky Santoro to protect Sam and the casino. Nicky makes sure everyone is kept in line, but his own criminal activities start drawing too much media and law enforcement attention. He recruits his younger brother Dominick and childhood friend Frankie Marino to gather a crew that specializes in loan sharking, shakedowns, safe cracking and jewelry store burglaries. Nicky is eventually placed in the Nevada Black Book, banning him from every casino in Nevada.

Sam meets and falls in love with beautiful hustler, dancer, and former prostitute Ginger McKenna. They have a daughter and marry, but their marriage is quickly thrown into turmoil due to Ginger's relationship with her former boyfriend, con artist and pimp Lester Diamond. Sam has Nicky and his crew beat Lester when they catch him accepting $25,000 from her. Ginger turns to alcohol and develops an increasingly problematic drug addiction.

In 1976, Sam fires slot manager Don Ward for incompetence. When Ward's brother-in-law, Clark County Commission chairman Pat Webb, fails to convince Sam to rehire Don, Webb arranges for Sam's gaming license to be denied, jeopardizing his position. Sam starts hosting a local television talk show from inside the casino, upsetting both Nicky and the bosses back home for making himself such a public figure and bringing unneeded attention. Sam blames Nicky's recklessness for ongoing police and Nevada Gaming Board pressure, and the two argue furiously in the Mojave Desert.

When the Midwest bosses discover that people on the inside are stealing from their skim, they install incompetent Kansas City underboss Artie Piscano to oversee the operation. Piscano ends up keeping written records of the operation's financials. Additionally, an FBI bug placed in Piscano's store catches him talking in detail about the casino skim, prompting a full investigation into the Tangiers Casino.

Sam seeks to divorce Ginger, who kidnaps their daughter, planning to flee to Europe with her and Lester. Sam convinces Ginger to return with Amy, then overhears her planning on the phone to kill him. Sam kicks her out of their home but later relents. Ginger approaches Nicky to get her valuables from Sam's safe deposit box, and the two start an affair. Sam confronts and disowns Ginger, and ends his friendship with Nicky. Nicky throws Ginger out when she demands he kill Sam. Drunk and furious, Ginger crashes her car into Sam's on the driveway and retrieves the key to their deposit box. She takes the contents of the box but is arrested by the FBI as a witness.

In 1979, the FBI closes the casino and Green agrees to cooperate. Piscano dies of a heart attack when federal agents discover his notebook. The FBI approaches Sam for help by showing him photos of Nicky and Ginger together, but he turns them down. The bosses are arrested and get ready for trial, and start arranging the murders of anyone who might testify against them and prolong their subsequent sentences. Ginger dies of a drug overdose, and Sam barely escapes death by a car bomb, suspecting Nicky to be the culprit. Before Sam can take revenge, the bosses, finally fed up with Nicky's recklessness, order Frankie and his crew to kill Nicky and Dominick. Under the impression that they are attending a meetup in an Indiana cornfield, they are beaten with baseball bats, covered in quicklime, and buried alive in a shallow grave.

With the mafia now out of the casino industry, Sam laments the new impersonal, corporate-run resorts of Las Vegas. He retires to San Diego and lives as a sports handicapper, ending up in his own words, "right back where I started".


Cast

  • Robert De Niro as Sam "Ace" Rothstein
  • Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna
  • Joe Pesci as Nicky Santoro
  • James Woods as Lester Diamond
  • Don Rickles as Billy Sherbert
  • Alan King as Andy Stone
  • Kevin Pollak as Philip Green
  • L. Q. Jones as Pat Webb
  • Dick Smothers as Senator
  • Frank Vincent as Frank Marino
  • John Bloom as Don Ward
  • Pasquale Cajano as Remo Gaggi
  • Melissa Prophet as Jennifer Santoro
  • Bill Allison as John Nance
  • Vinny Vella as Artie Piscano
  • Oscar Goodman as Himself
  • Catherine Scorsese as Piscano's mother
  • Philip Suriano as Dominick Santoro
  • Erika Von Tagen as Older Amy
  • Richard Riehle as Charlie Clark
  • Frankie Avalon as Himself
  • Steve Allen as Himself
  • Jayne Meadows as Herself
  • Jerry Vale as Himself
  • Joseph Rigano as Vincent Borelli
  • Gene Ruffini as Vinny Forlano
  • Paul Herman as Gambler in Phone Booth

Production

Development

Casino is based on New York crime reporter Nicholas Pileggi's book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. The research for Casino began when news reporter and screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi read a 1980 report from the Las Vegas Sun about a domestic argument between Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, a casino figure, and his wife Geri McGee, a former topless dancer. This gave him an idea to focus on a new book about the true story of mob infringement in Las Vegas during the 1970s, when filming of Goodfellas (whose screenplay he co-wrote with Scorsese) was coming to an end. The fictional Tangiers resort reflected the story of the Stardust Resort and Casino, which had been bought by Argent Corporation in 1974 using loans from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. Argent was owned by Allen Glick, but the casino was believed to be controlled by various organized crime families from the Midwest. Over the next six years, Argent Corporation siphoned off between $7 and $15 million using rigged scales. This skimming operation, when uncovered by the FBI, was the largest ever exposed. A number of organized crime figures were convicted as a result of the skimming.

Pileggi contacted Scorsese about taking the lead of the project, which became known as Casino. Scorsese expressed interest, calling this an "idea of success, no limits." Pileggi was keen to release the book and then concentrate on a film adaptation, but Scorsese encouraged him to "reverse the order."

Scorsese and Pileggi collaborated on the script for five months, towards the end of 1994. Real-life characters were reshaped, such as Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, Geri McGee, Anthony Spilotro, and Spilotro's brother Michael. Some characters were combined, and parts of the story were set in Kansas City instead of Chicago. A problem emerged when they were forced to refer to Chicago as "back home" and use the words "adapted from a true story" instead of "based on a true story." Real life mobster turned witness Frank Cullotta inspired the character Frank Marino (played by Frank Vincent), served as a technical advisor for the film, and also played an on-screen role as a hitman.

They also decided to simplify the script, so that the character of Sam "Ace" Rothstein worked only at the Tangiers Casino, in order to show a glimpse of the trials involved in operating a Mafia-run casino hotel without overwhelming the audience. According to Scorsese, the initial opening sequence was to feature the main character, Sam Rothstein, fighting with his estranged wife Ginger on the lawn of their house. The scene was too detailed, so they changed the sequence to show the explosion of Sam's car and him flying into the air before hovering over the flames in slow motion—like a soul about to go straight down to hell.

Principal photography

Filming took place at night in the Riviera casino in Las Vegas, with the nearby defunct Landmark Hotel as the entrance, to replicate the fictional Tangiers. According to the producer Barbara De Fina, there was no point in building a set if the cost were the same to use a real-life one. The opening scene, with Sam's car exploding, was shot three times; the third take was used for the film. Saul Bass did the title sequence, which was his last work. When first submitted to the MPAA, the film received an NC-17 rating due to its depictions of violence. Several edits were made in order to reduce the rating to R. The film was shot in the Super 35 format as it allowed the picture to be reformatted for television broadcast. Scorsese said, "I wish I could just shoot straight anamorphic, but the lenses we had in this situation were actually much more diversified. To a certain extent, shooting a film this way can make certain technical aspects more difficult, but to me, anything is better than panning and scanning on TV. We can re-frame just about every shot we did on this picture for video."


Release

Theatrical

Casino was released in theaters in the United States on November 22, 1995.


Reception

Box office

Casino opened in 1,616 theaters and grossed about $10 million in its opening weekend. The film grossed $43 million domestically and $73 million internationally, for a total of $116 million worldwide, on a $40–50 million budget.

Critical response

Upon its release, the film received mostly positive reviews from critics, although their praise was more muted than it had been for the thematically similar Goodfellas, released only five years earlier, with some reviewers criticizing Scorsese for retreading familiar territory. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 80% based on 64 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. The site's critical consensus reads, "Impressive ambition and bravura performances from an outstanding cast help Casino pay off in spite of a familiar narrative that may strike some viewers as a safe bet for director Martin Scorsese." On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating "generally favorable reviews." Audiences surveyed by CinemaScore gave the film a grade "B-" on scale of A+ to F.

Roger Ebert gave the film four out of four, stating that "Martin Scorsese's fascinating new film Casino knows a lot about the Mafia's relationship with Las Vegas. Like The Godfather it makes us feel like eavesdroppers in a secret place." He added, "Unlike his other Mafia movies (Mean Streets and Goodfellas), Scorsese's Casino is as concerned with history as with plot and character." Philip Thomas of the Empire praised the film while highlighting its similarities to Goodfellas. He gave the film five stars commenting "It may not be Scorsese's greatest work, but this guy feeling a little off-colour is still far, far better than most people on fighting-fit form. It only gets more impressive as time goes on."

The film's critical profile has increased in years after its release, with several critics expressing that, in retrospect, they feel it is a more accomplished and artistically mature work than the thematically similar Goodfellas.

Accolades

List of Accolades
Award / FestivalCategoryRecipient(s)Result
Academy AwardBest Actress in a Leading RoleSharon StoneNominated
Golden Globe AwardBest Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – DramaWon
Best DirectorMartin ScorseseNominated

Soundtrack

Casino: Original Motion Picture Soundtrack
Soundtrack album by
various artists
ReleasedNovember 20, 1995
GenreRock, soul, funk, R&B, blues, jazz, country, traditional pop
LabelMCA
ProducerRobbie Robertson

Disc 1

Disc 2