In 1983, Las Vegas casino manager Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) was blown up by a bomb in his car. This was the culmination of a life lived side by side with mobsters, which he technically was, but actually he was a highly talented businessman who had brought in billions of dollars for organised crime in America during the seventies and early eighties. But even men as careful as Sam have their flaws, and the good times could not last forever: was his Achilles Heel his love for his wife Ginger (Sharon Stone) or his bond with childhood friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci)?
Probably both, but if there was a lesson here it was an operation so reliant on corruption and intimidation was bound to collapse eventually, leading something new to take over, yet when you're dealing with Vegas the tone here was a stifling sense of everyone with their price when money was involved, and often that price would be paid by someone else. When Casino was initially released, it met a mixed reception as many observers were wont to point out that director Martin Scorsese had returned to the well of real-life gangster stories once too often. There are still those who feel that Casino was a repeat of Goodfellas.
A repeat at elephantine length, as well, for this biopic stretched well into three hours, and the naysayers were correct in complaining that a certain monotony had set in by the first ten minutes. Yet as the constant selections from Scorsese's record collection conveyed, this was more like a symphony on the theme of major, long-running crime, aiming for operatic heights and Tin Pan Alley lows, flowing like a river of music from one scene into the next. Stylistically, he was as impressive as he ever was, and returning to the film there must have been few to point out that this was not a moviemaker at the height of his powers even if they were not so keen on the story he told.
Those characters were hard to warm to unless you were an actual mobster and wanted something to aspire to (well, apart from what happened to them at the end), but the essential immorality depicted was capitalised upon to make us grimly captivated by the control of Sam and the recklessness of Ginger and Nicky. For Ginger, she was the hustler who caught Sam's eye while cheating gamblers in his establishment, and alarm bells should have rung in his head rather than wedding bells, but the point of these people was that they were fatally flawed, so for Sam it was not his fastidious mind that proved his downfall but his far more vulnerable heart - even his new wife is in love, just not with him as it's her pimp she has eyes for (a terrific James Woods).
Which makes Sam the hero by default, since everyone else is so deplorable by any normal yardstick. Nicky's drawback was what everyone else falls prey to, the lure of the riches there, but also his propensity for violence as he bullies and attacks and even murders his path through anyone who he sees to be in the way of both the Mob and his own personal gain. Yet Sam feels great affection for him, being his oldest friend - we had been here before in Scorsese movies, but what made this stand out was a strong female lead in Stone, not something the director was often comfortable with. This was mainly thanks to the actress throwing herself into the role with truly excellent effect: obviously bad news, but dangerously seductive for a men like Sam and Nicky.
Not that Rothstein was stupid, but errors of judgement in his emotional life began to tip the balance in his business life, leaving him struggling to stay above water as the FBI close in, and the sharks in the organisation smell blood. His idea of everyday life becomes trying and failing to trust Ginger and Nicky while the law watches his every move, a state of paranoia that seems crushingly inevitable, although Sam by no means rolls over and lets this walk all over him. Throughout he rules his roost with as much rigidity as he can muster, whether dealing with one of the powerful cowboys (L.Q. Jones, great casting) who is of the belief these mobsters have merely borrowed Las Vegas from them, to fighting back against the officials he keeps in business with such antics as starting his own TV chat show (which really should have been called You Talkin' To Me?). Scorsese managed a keenly skilled act of keeping this all compulsively watchable, no matter your amibivalent (at most) feelings towards these people, superbly acted as they were.
American writer and director who emerged as one of the brightest and most vital of the generation of filmmakers who came to prominence during the 1970s with his heartfelt, vivid and at times lurid works. After deciding against joining the priesthood, he turned to his other passion - movies - and started with short efforts at film school until Roger Corman hired him to direct Boxcar Bertha.
However, it was New York drama Mean Streets that really made Scorsese's name as a talent to watch, and his succeeding films, Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore (which won Ellen Burstyn an Oscar and is the only Scorsese movie to be made into a sitcom) and the cult classic Taxi Driver (starring Robert De Niro, forever associated with the director's work) only confirmed this.
In the nineties, Scorsese began with the searing gangster saga Goodfellas, and continued with the over-the-top remake of Cape Fear before a change of pace with quietly emotional period piece The Age of Innocence. Casino saw a return to gangsters, and Kundun was a visually ravishing story of the Dalai Lama. Bringing Out the Dead returned to New York for a medical tale of redemption, and Gangs of New York was a muddled historical epic.
Still the Best Director Oscar eluded him, but the 2000s gave what many saw as his best chance at winning. Slick Howard Hughes biopic The Aviator didn't make it, but remake of Infernal AffairsThe Departed finally won him the prize. Outlandish thriller Shutter Island then provided him with the biggest hit of his career after which he surprised everyone by making family film Hugo - another huge hit.
This was followed by an even bigger success with extreme broker takedown The Wolf of Wall Street, and a return to his religious origins with the austere, redemption through torture drama Silence. Despite being an advocate of the theatrical experience, he joined forces with Netflix for The Irishman, reuniting him with De Niro for one last gangster epic. He also directed Michael Jackson's Bad music video.