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Category:    Home > Reviews > Gangster > Classical Gangster > Gambling > Casino (1995/HD-DVD)

Casino (1995/HD-DVD)


Picture: B+     Sound: B+     Extras: B     Film: B+



It has been a long road for the world to catch up with Martin Scorsese and all the while as he sometimes wondered if he would continue directing.  After the amazing New York, New York (reviewed elsewhere on this site) did not work out financially in 1977, it looked like he would do smaller films and though some classics were made under those circumstances in this period, it would take GoodFellas (see the HD-DVD review elsewhere on this site) in 1990 for a larger kind of comeback to occur.  Though he originally was set to do Clockers at Universal, the studio made the fateful decision to hand that project over to Spike Lee (resulting in an interesting shift in his approach to addressing urban misé-en-scene) and got Scorsese to sign on for Casino instead.


It seemed like a potential commercial home run, but instead of busting the bank beyond The Color Of Money and his Cape Fear remake since GoodFellas was a moderate hit, too many people actually had short memories and complained that this film was too violent!  I found this amusing and could not believe the goofy reaction.  It was not like it was a PG film or anything.  Also, not one to really repeat himself, Scorsese and co-writer Nicholas Pileggi actually went out of their way to subvert some of the trappings of GoodFellas.  With his largest production budget since New York, New York, Scorsese was back with a vengeance and the resulting film is one of the most underrated epics about America ever made.  Hopefully, none of the following will spoil it for you.


This is about the rise and fall of two empires at the same time: old gangsters and the old adult “sin city” version of Las Vegas.  Vegas was built by gangsters, including when Ben Siegel was murdered for not delivering the paradise in the desert on time.  It will turn out the land was more borrowed than any of them could have ever imagined.  Based very closely (accurately and effectively after seeing the real footage not so long ago) on the actual events, top Jewish mobster Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert DeNiro in another great performance) is the ultimate caretaker of the dark side of the gambling in the city.  His gambling hotel is one of the top places for the rich to go, have fun and lose money.  He got there through his uncanny knack for predicting the odds with nearly 100% accuracy.  Staying at the top is another matter.  It is 1973 and he is at the peak of his power, with his good friend Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) as his best friend, top Italian gangster partner and enforcer.  One day, Ace is on the floor checking out for scheming and stealing.  He knows every trick in the book, yet even he cannot believe what he sees when he meets a very clever escort named Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone in an Oscar-nominated role that remains some of the best work of her career and proof she can act when the role is a challenge) who has moves he has not seen before.  It is love at first sight, but that may not be a good thing.


To say complications begin to ensure is an understatement and it is far beyond anything that happens between Ace & Ginger.  The gang had everything going for them, but it was a juggling act and they eventually blew it.  Nicky becomes increasingly nuts, Ace’s assistant Billy Sherbert (Don Rickles in a very good performance) can only help so much, local reps (Kevin Pollock), legit men on the take (Alan King), senators (Dick Smothers), dirty criminals outside of their inner circle (James Woods) and fellow gangsmen (Frank Vincent and Vinny Vella) eventually become too much as all the absolute power corrupts absolutely.


Of course, the real tipping point may just be a mysterious figure named Pat Webb (the great character actor L.Q. Jones) who is a native of Nevada that is not happy with Ace and the way he treated one of his relatives.  As if Ace was not facing enough insanity, his blindness from power epitomized by this exchange, is a pivotal point most viewers miss and one of the many reasons this is much, much more than a revisiting of GoodFellas.  Las Vegas itself is also a character in the story and the three hours never let up in their depth, surprise, energy and dark humor.  Even the idea of voiceover is spoofed and experimentally played with as only a master architect of the cinema like Scorsese could deliver.  If anything, it just gets better and better with age.



The 1080p 2.35 X 1 was shot in the Super 35mm format by the great Robert Richardson, A.S.C., and it is to date one of the cleanest, sharpest, most colorful and most complex uses of the secondary scope format in cinema history.  From the pre-credit sequence to the brilliant credits by the late, great Saul bass to brilliant shot after brilliant shot throughout.  Previous transfers just lacked the impact of 35mm release prints, but this HD version finally hits the mark.  Dante Ferretti’s production design is one of the best recreations of the 1970s you will ever see and the John Dunn/Rita Ryack costumes are amazing, so much so that no one noticed or realized they all had to be made.  Nothing is harder than recreating clothes from the 1970s, as an old friend once pointed out to me.


The film was issued theatrically in DTS and was easily one of the early winners in 5.1 mixes exclusive to the format or otherwise.  However, since then, no home video edition had sound that matched that mix.  In the old 12” LaserDisc format, a DTS-only edition was issued, but it was not so hot.  All standard DVDs that followed only offered Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes that also could not cut it, but now comes the Dolby Digital Plus 5.1 mix here and though this critic still personally missed a DTS option that would work, it is the first time the mix has sounded correct.


Instead of a regular music soundtrack, Scorsese once again digs deep into classic hit records and they punctuate the film in the most profound ways throughout.  Highlights include Harry Nilsson’s Without You, Brenda Lee’s I’m Sorry, The Moody Blues’ Nights In White Satin, Louis Prima’s Angelina, Mickey & Sylvia’s Love Is Strange, DEVO’s cover of The Rolling Stone classic (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction, DEVO’s own classic Whip It (which Scorsese has said was experimental and it is interesting when it surfaces), the Eric Burdon/Animals hit House Of The Rising Sun he has used before in a different form and Jimmy Smith singing Walk On The Wild Side.


By the way, this is one of Scorsese’s first scope-frame films and there seems to be an in-joke involving George Delerue’s song from Jean-Luc Godard’s 1963 classic Contempt, Godard’s first-ever use of scope (Franscope to be precise) and features Fritz Lang’s famous put-down of the Scope frame (CinemaScope, to paraphrase, was only good for filming snakes and funerals).  The film also has a reference to one of Scorsese’s ten favorite widescreen films in the form of a joke, talking about Dean Martin in Vincente Minnelli’s Some Came Running.  All that, and that still does not even discuss how the song is used in the narrative of his film.


The combination of picture and sound from this disc is often demonstration quality and is more like a recent older title should playback in an HD format.  It took over a decade, but a home video version of this film worthy of it finally made it to market.


The disc also offers all the extras of the recent standard DVD reissue, including deleted scenes, a documentary on the film broken up into four featurettes, a Moments piece with Martin Scorsese, Sharon Stone & Nicholas Pileggi et al, a Vegas & The Mob Featurette and History Alive - True Crime Authors: Casino with Nicholas Pileggi.  Instantly, this is one of the best back catalog titles in either HD format and is highly recommended.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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