A photo of actors Robert DeNiro and comedian Don Rickles from Martin Scorcese’s movie ‘Casino’
A photo of actors Robert DeNiro and comedian Don Rickles from Martin Scorcese’s movie ‘Casino’
Photo: Universal Studios

It’s 3 In The Morning, Time To Re-Watch ‘Casino’

Martin Scorcese’s spiritual sequel to ‘Goodfellas’ is all the fun of a gangster flick without the angst

I rewatched Martin Scorcese’s 1995 salute to Sin City Casino on Hulu at 3 AM yesterday morning. I haven’t been sleeping well these past few months and when insomnia strikes I put on movies I love while I try to fall asleep on the couch. Last month, the sun rose while I finished watching the deeply silly ’80s sci-fi fantasy, Krull.

I have probably seen Casino more than *holds up all ten fingers* this many times. And it stays the same every time. This is to say, it’s a highly enjoyable picture show about hoodlums and racketeers and other assorted do-badders.

My Casino rewatch was random, however. I did not roll out of bed and groggily think “I need to watch Joe Pesci literally put a man’s head in a vice.” No. I simply turned on my TV, picked my preferred streaming service and voila! Casino was there. The Hulu algorithm knew what I needed. And what I needed was mid-90’s Robert DeNiro squinting and smoking and tilting his head.

But, mostly, I just wanted a good movie I had seen before. I wasn’t in the mood to take a risk. Sometimes my brain wants a long, familiar walk. Sometimes it wants the hits. Ideally, these kinds of movies are either excellent genre flicks made by talented people or guilty pleasures, like the aforementioned Krull, an action-fantasy about a boy with a razor frisbee and his best friend, a Cyclops.

Other examples of rewatchable faves include the original Total Recall, Taratino’s revisionist Nazi history Inglourious Basterds, and Moonstruck, the most perfect romantic comedy ever. I could probably rewatch serial killer thriller Zodiac every day. I am overdue for another viewing of No Country For Old Men, a bleak modern western by the Coens that is high-end action trash.

And, of course, there’s Casino. How could I forget Casino? Thank you, Hulu, for remaining me. I recommend this movie if you’re tossing and turning because you’re worried about money.

I’m trying to pay my bills, you know?

Casino was a sort of spiritual sequel to Scorcese’s fuggedaboudit classic Goodfellas: it reunited Deniro and Pesci as haunted wise guys under the direction of the master himself. It’s also the second movie in what would be an unofficial trilogy about the mob. Goodfellas is a rocket. A kinetic, glamorous, near-perfect movie about death by easy money that is as good now as it was when it was released in 1990.

Last year, Scorcese released The Irishman, the third reunion between DeNiro, Pesci, and Scorcese. This time joined by Oscar-winning actor Al Pacino, no stranger to starring in mob films. The Irishman is an existential mob movie. You can’t bury death in a shallow grave. It comes for everyone, even made men. It’s a hypnotic and almost mournful deconstruction of the gangster genre, and the 20th century, when shadow criminal organizations were entangled with labor unions and the government and no one blinked an eye.

Goodfellas was a morality play. The Irishman was about mortality. But Casino is everything fun about gangster movies without any of the angst. It’s a guilt-free production. These mooks are rotten to the core but, hey, they’re having fun. Casino teaches similar lessons to Goodfellas. For instance: there is no honor amongst thieves. One of the main themes of The Irishman is also touched upon in Scorcese’s portrait of Vegas when it was good and dirty. Namely, that history obliterates all legacies. Money cannot buy immortality.

But Casino never lectures. I don’t think Scorcese is given enough credit as a thoughtful artist. He’s made movies that explore and criticize religion and politics and the American dream. But he’s also a helluva showman and Casino is a cracking good example of him at his most crowd-pleasing. I’d count Cape Fear and The Departed as examples at Scorcese at his modest eager to please.

Casino is nothing but murder and money and sex. It’s a predictable parade of hard-boiled tropes. Crisp fifty-dollar bills are peeled off. Guns are tucked into pants. Orders are given and carried out. Casino is a buffet that offers heaping servings of what Scorcese does best: tough talk, cringe-worthy gore, and documentary-style voiceovers explaining how underworld business is done. The scenes where the main characters explain how golden age Las Vegas casinos made their money are some of my favorites.

As Al Rothstein, DeNiro turns in a surprisingly nuanced performance as a goose who lays golden eggs — a sort of gambling genius beloved by the mob who uses his brains more than muscle. Joe Pesci returns as another Mafia psychopath whose eventual death is one of the most gutwrenching scenes of violence committed to film. It just never ends, even after Pesci’s bloodied character starts begging.

Together, they’re clearly having fun playing a couple of mooks, rotten to the core.

The movie also includes a rare dramatic turn by Rat Pack-era insult comic Don Rickles and a greasy performance by current right-wing banshee James Woods, back when he was a brilliant serpentine actor. If cocaine wore a mustache, cocaine would look like James Woods in Casino.

Sharon Stone has never gotten enough respect for her career, but here’s hoping modern audiences take notice. She is a conventional beauty with unconventional darkness behind her eyes.

In Casino, Sharon Stone plays Ginger McKenna, a charismatic hustler who is part Amazon, part junky. Stone’s Ginger may be the best female character in a Scorcese movie, which she steals every time she’s on-screen. Stone’s performance is brittle and jagged, smart, and hopeless, all at once. It’s too bad she wasn’t cast in The Irishman because she acts laps around DeNiro and Pesci.

I change my mind about movies all the time. There are movies I loved as a kid that I can’t through now. There are movies I thought were insufferable when I first saw them and then I grew up a little. And then there’s Casino. Until next time you colorful of crime.

Ugh. I hope I can sleep tonight.

Currently: Humungus. Formerly: NY Post, CONAN, Sirius XM. 2X James Beard award-winning essayist. I write about culture, politics, feelings.

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