When it comes to making movies about people involved in violent or shady business, Martin Scorsese has no equal. The corrupt Wall Street financiers, Chicago mobsters, a deranged would-be assassin – the subjects explored by Scorsese through his movies are quite diverse.
Thanks to its long association with organized crime, the Vegas gambling business makes the perfect backdrop for a Scorsese movie. When it was released in 1995, Casino was both a critical and commercial success. It continues to enthrall us today as one of the finest movies set in Sin City. Here are a few reasons why Casino is such a beloved classic:
1. It is based on real people
All the main characters are based on individuals who lived and worked in the Vegas casino industry in the 1970s and 80s. Frank Rosenthal, a manager at three different Vegas casinos, is the inspiration for De Niro’s Sam Rothstein. The notorious Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) is based on real-life mobster Anthony Spilotro, and Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) was Geri McGee, a Vegas socialite.
2. It captures the essence of Vegas
No other movie has done such an excellent job of portraying what Las Vegas is all about. They barely scratch the surface, only showing the “good” side of partying and weekend getaways. But Casino digs deep, laying bare the origins of the city and its past ties with organized crime while at the same time showing the opulence, neon signs, and gamblers having fun at cards and slots.
3. It was one of De Niro’s finest performances
There is a reason why De Niro and Scorsese have done nine epic movies together. They are both icons in their respective fields. De Niro’s portrayal of Sam Rothstein is perhaps the last role in his career where he was allowed to flex his considerable acting chops to the fullest. A Jewish gambling expert working for the Italian mob makes for a fascinating character study indeed.
4. It had a stellar cast with Pesci and Stone
De Niro is not the only great thing about the Casino cast. In fact, Sharon Stone probably eclipsed all others with her stunning portrayal of the blonde hustler Ginger McKenna. The ever-reliable Joe Pesci adds tension to every scene, portraying a man whose menace far exceeds his short and stocky frame. His Santoro’s dynamic with the more refined Sam Rothstein makes the three-hour-long movie a compelling watch throughout.
5. It was shot in a real casino
The movie was not shot in a Hollywood replica of a casino. All the indoor shots were filmed inside the Riviera in Vegas. The grand old casino had a history dating back to 1955, making it the ideal backdrop for this movie. The crew shot the scenes after midnight, to avoid causing too much disruption to clients. The extras in these scenes are all real casino dealers, pit bosses, and players, all adding to the realism and authenticity of the movie.
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6. The violence depicted actually happened
In many ways, Casino is Scorsese’s most violent movie. Scenes involving the torture of a man using a vice, the attempted murder of De Niro using a car bomb, the death by overdose of Stone’s character, and the murder of Joe Pesci’s character (buried alive in a cornfield) are all over the top in many ways. But the shocking thing is – they all happened to these character’s real-life counterparts. Scorsese did not use violence purely for shock value or style. He was just faithfully portraying the reality.
7. It is based on excellent investigative reporting
Unlike other epic crime dramas, Casino is more like a documentary in many ways. It lays bare the intricate web of corruption that was centered in Las Vegas, with tendrils reaching out to politicians, Teamsters unions, Chicago mob, and the Midwest mafia based out of Kansas City. The movie is based on the investigative non-fiction work Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. Its author, Nicholas Pileggi, co-wrote the screenplay for the Casino movie with the director.
8. The movie holds your attention from beginning to the end
At almost three hours, Casino is one of the longest movies from Martin Scorsese. Yet it never lags in the middle or runs out of steam by the end. From its shocking opening scene with the car bomb, Casino is riveting till the end. With masterful editing and taut narration, Casino manages to stay a lean, mean thriller throughout. For a movie depicting the excesses and lavishness of Vegas, the director remains in control till the end.
9. It makes you feel and care for the characters
There are no good guys in a movie like Casino. With greed and corruption as the central theme, there is no space for heroes and heroines. Every key character is mired in violence, treachery, and avarice. Yet when these characters get their comeuppance in the end, we do feel sorry for them in some ways. This is especially true in the case of Sharon Stone’s Ginger. Casino is a very convincing and touching depiction of human tragedy.
10. It is truly an epic movie with a massive scope
While Scorsese does focus on three key characters, the story of Casino unfolding in the background has massive implications. It explains how the mafia lost control of a city that was basically minting money in the billions. We see how huge gambling corporations took over the desert city. It shows how Vegas continues to reinvent itself. In many ways, Casino is an epic history lesson about Vegas.