The first time I saw Casino I was a broadcasting student, learning the production rules for film and television. The movie astounded me because Martin Scorsese broke almost every rule I was learning and was considered to be a genius filmmaker. If I had tried half the rogue style he used in his movie, I would have failed my classes. I only wish I could have seen how my teachers would have graded a project by Scorsese and how he would have explained himself. Thanks to the 10th Anniversary release of Casino I finally get that explanation, only without the red marks against Scorsese from my teachers.
Based on true stories about the rise and fall of Vegas prior to it becoming a more “family friendly” environment (“Today it looks like Disneyland” says the movie) Casino brings the seedy underworld of Goodfellas to Las Vegas. Based on reality and brought to life by Martin Scorsese’s cinematic style, Casino’s violent, foul mouthed take on Sin City adds a bit of a frightening element to Casino because the events on screen just might be a bit more real than you’d like to think.
Robert De Niro plays Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a successful bookie who, thanks to his mafia ties, becomes the head of the successful Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. “Ace” brings his innovation to the casino much like he did to his bookie business, making a lot of money for the mob bosses and putting him under the eye of the government. Following “Ace” to Vegas is Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), a made man who intends to set up stakes in the gangless streets of Vegas. Unfortunately it doesn’t take long for Nicky to rub everyone the wrong way including the feds, the casinos, the mob, and even his friend “Ace”.
Although Casino tells the story of the mob’s power in Vegas, it does so by wrapping it around the centerpiece of the movie’s characters. “Ace” is not just the person responsible for the mob’s casino connection. He’s a man - a man who attempts to tame a woman he falls in love with, despite her being the type of woman he never should have gone after. He’s a man who has to deal with his friend backstabbing him, and working at cross purposes against him. The way the movie presents the relationships between De Niro and Pesci’s characters, as well as Sharon Stone’s hustler Ginger and her former pimp boyfriend Lester (James Woods), are the center of the movie here, and it’s almost as if the health of those relationships are what determines whether the Tangiers casino succeeds or fails. As such, this is less a mafia movie, and more a movie about people who have mafia connections. With narrative voice overs from De Niro and Pesci dominating most of the film, we are constantly in touch with how these characters are causing and reacting to the events around them.
Casino not only gets De Niro and Pesci, but an extremely talented and skillful cast to support them. Say what you want, Sharon Stone is at her best here, deserving of her Golden Globe and Oscar nominees. After her stint in Catwoman many people felt she should never work again, but after watching Casino again, it’s almost a shame she’ll never find another role like this. Other exceptional members of the cast include Frank Vincent as Pesci’s right hand man and excellently done straight-man roles for usual comedians Don Rickles, Dick Smothers, Alan King, and John Bloom.
As you might expect from a Scorsese film, or just a movie with De Niro and Pesci in the cast, Casino is a lot of violence interspersed with the F-word (rumored to have been said 422 times over the course of the movie). However it also contains some great characterization, creating sympathy for characters who really aren’t very good people. It’s a tribute to Scorsese’s skill as both a filmmaker and a storyteller, combining the offensive, the violent, and a feeling of reality for Vegas and these people, to make a masterpiece picture.
This isn’t Casino’s first foray into the world of DVD, however the 10th Anniversary finally gives Universal an excuse to add some bonus material to what was previously only a bare-bones release. Unfortunately the release is a bit of a mixed bag, with a less than stellar approach to what could have been an excellent DVD release.
While the disc has a decent amount of bonus material, it is only one disc - the movie is presented on a flipper disc, with the film on one side and the bonus material on the other side. I’m not sure why Casino doesn’t deserve a two disc set instead, but apparently it doesn’t. The now-standard-fare Universal trailers play at the disc’s start up as well, although they can be bypassed easily.
The movie includes a commentary track or, as it’s advertised, “Moments with Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone, Nicholas Pileggi, and More”. There’s a reason why it’s called that - because it’s not actually a commentary track. The track is built using snippets from interviews and the documentaries on the other side of the disc with soundbytes by Scorsese, Stone, Pileggi, and others placed in the appropriate part of the movie. While it’s a consolidated track of interesting information, it comes nowhere close to a commentary of people actually watching the film and commenting on it. Also, since it uses material found elsewhere on the disc, it’s completely redundant information. To add that extra bit of annoying in, each person speaking is introduced, so before you hear what Scorsese has to say about a scene, an announcer says "Mr. Martin Scorsese". We all know Marty's fast talking patter could have easily filled up three hours as he watched the film, so the choice to comment on the movie this way is an extreme disappointment. With this sort of presentation, it would almost be better if Universal had left this track off the disc.
The second side of the disc contains deleted scenes, a History Channel documentary about the facts behind Nicholas Pileggi’s novel, and a series of four featurettes that focus on Casino itself, following the film all the way from the writing stage to final post production. All four featurettes are really interesting with some fantastic information, including the oft-debated casting of Sharon Stone and the costumes worn by De Niro (approved by the real Rosenthal who inspired De Niro’s character). Like other parts of this release, the featurettes could have been done better though - either by releasing all four shorts as one solid documentary or at the very least including a “play all” option.
While this 10th Anniversary Edition of Casino could have been handled better, as a fan of the film I have to admit I’m happy to finally have something beyond just the movie. Maybe in another ten years Universal will see fit to not only give the movie more bonus material, but to present it in a better manner.