Sunday, January 21, 2018

Casino (1995)

As I have stated many times before to anyone willing to listen, the only reason why this film comes second to Goodfellas in my list of top 5 Scorsese flicks is because I haven't seen it as many times as the latter.
And now I know why that is so. The last three times that I watched Casino, I couldn't help but also watch Goodfellas either before or after, as if it were an extension of the same film, not even a prequel or sequel.
And so, the gap in the number of viewings persists.
I mean, how am I not supposed to do it?
The transition from one film to the other is almost indiscernible. So one minute you're out there in Vegas, watching Joe Pesci's Nikki Santoro beat the crap out of anybody who he wants to beat the crap out of as Robert De Niro's Sam 'Ace' Rothstein tries to control him, even as his own life as the manager of a mob-owned casino is spiralling out of control; then another minute you're standing in Brooklyn, watching Pesci's Tommy DeVito and De Niro's Jimmy Conway beat the crap out of anybody they want to beat the crap out of as Ray Liotta's Henry Hill tries to control them, even as his own life as a gangster cum drug dealer is spiralling out of control.
Aside from both being outstanding in terms of the research put in, Nicholas Pileggi's approach to writing the screenplays of Casino and Goodfellas is near identical. There's a lot of information that gets passed unto the audience across the length of both films, in the form of sub-text.
The music from one film is as effective as from the other, with most songs getting seared into your head such that it is impossible to imagine a scene from either film without also hearing the background score. I seem to have written about this before but I will still repeat it, the colour that Scorsese is able to bring to the scenes using songs is just mind-boggling.
The camera moves, and it fucking moves like only Scorsese can fucking move it. You could fill a book with the techniques he's used in just these two films (and I'm sure they already have).
The characters from both films are brutal but also clumsy, which makes them anything but one-noted and stereotyped. They're made of flesh and blood and display the same kind of idiosyncrasies that men of flesh and blood display outside reel-life.
For instance, if you take Pesci's characters from both films, DeVito and Santoro are men who are equally deranged. 
Both are powerful criminals who make up for their lack of physique with an excess of insanity and balls. And yet their dialogues make you laugh, sometimes with them but most of the times at them, as if they're average schmucks.
Sharon Stone plays the erratic female lead in Casino and while not surpassing Lorraine Bracco's intense performance as Karen Hill from the earlier film, she does do a competent job of it.
Like in Goodfellas, Casino uses voice-over narration and effectively too, such that it is only thirty minutes into either film that you start to feel like you've known these characters and their circumstances all along.
The one difference that I have been able to spot between the two films though is that Casino- probably on account of it being made after Goodfellas- is better structured and more fleshed out as a story. Scorsese spends more time here than in his previous film in giving a background, which in this case is the inner workings of a mob-run casino from the 70s and the 80s.
Agreed, the violence is shocking but it is so without being gory and is instead attributable to an excellent combination of sound design, lighting and quick-cut editing- all marks of a talented director.
All in all, a remarkable film I would recommend to any cinephile, that is if you haven't watched it already.
The more films I watch the more I realise that the 90s was one of the best decades for old-school celluloid of the kind I love the most.
Casino is the best example of this.
4 out of 5.
Catch trailer here:

No comments: