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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Casino, revisited.





This isn’t a review. This is a write-up of my experience of revisiting, after a few years, the 1995 film Casino. Contrary to its title, Casino is not one of those gambling movies. It’s a follow up to Martin Scorsese’s mafia mob drama Goodfellas.

“When you love someone, you gotta trust them. There’s no other way. You gotta give them the key to everything that’s yours. Otherwise, what’s the point? And for a while, I believe that’s the kind of love I had” says Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein as he walks out with a cigar in his mouth and into a car that blows up. What does one make of that? Scorsese’s films rarely begin with the beginning. You’re given a glimpse of (mostly) some part of the middle. Just like how Kubrick began Lolita with its ending. By showing us where the story climaxes, our minds aren’t perched on the fate of the characters but instead on their functioning.

Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein (Robert Deniro) heads a Casino in Las Vegas. He might be working under the title of ‘Casino Executive’ in a Casino owned by Philip Green, who exists as the squeaky clean front man under the orders of the elders of a mafia family, but Sam was the boss. The first time the camera pans into his magnificent Casino, you see it brightly lit and adorned with slot machines lined up against each other. Sam explains about the business, “We’re the only winners. The players don’t stand a chance.”


When Sam doubles profits (which are skimmed by the Mafia before the records are reported), the bosses send in Capo regime Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), a hot headed enforcer. Nicky narrates “Sam didn’t gamble like one of us, having fun and all. He was serious. It was all about detail to him. He was a money machine. That’s what got him to Vegas. His trick was to keep the players coming back until they have no more. Then we get it all.”

Sam’s game here was the Casino. All he wanted to do was stay in the Casino, running it. He wanted things to play nice and smooth. So when he’s denied a licence in response to sacking the Commissioner’s brother-in-law for incompetence and the bosses urge him to back into ‘Food & Beverage’, he makes a spectacle of himself on TV as he provokes authorities.

“Ace saw Vegas one way, I saw it another. I saw it as untouched.” To Nicky, their stay in Vegas was temporary and they had to make the most out of it. Nicky, who thrives on antisocial behaviour, is inducted into the black book- a ban from every Casino in Las Vegas. But that doesn’t kill his spirit. He gets into a new trade, robbing jewellery with his newly assembled crew and selling them at his jewellery store. As long as someone has things better than he does, he’s got a problem. “Fuck the bosses. I’m in the trenches; they’re sittin’ on their asses drinkin’ anisette.” He seemed like he wanted trouble and more trouble. At one point Sam complains “Every cop in the state is watching him and he’s playing golf.” For Nicky, it’s staying here. He won’t back down for anybody. He’ll stay where he’s not wanted even if that’s just where he’s most unsafe.

The heat piles on both their situations and neither man is satisfied with mere financial gain. They’ve gotten too comfortable to want to budge. The bosses of the family don’t take well to either behaviour. They want to keep the money coming and without a ruckus. But, both their boys in Vegas were jeopardizing that. “Maybe it was Vegas that got to all of us,” narrates Nicky.

Throwing affairs out of hand is Sam’s wife, Ginger (Sharon Stone). Ginger is a complete train wreck; her core beliefs had real issues. Having worked as a prostitute before her marriage to Sam made her discount the existence of happiness. However, she did overcompensate for it by substituting it with pleasure. She gets over dependant on the high end lifestyle and splurges even on her old boyfriend, pimp-conman Lester Diamond.

Eventually, Ginger wants to leave with their little daughter but a man of Sam’s power won’t let that happen. Ginger repeatedly falls into a state of dilemma, torn between freedom and security. She leaves, she comes back. She leaves, she comes back. Sam wants to keep up appearances and so he takes her back every time. Ginger had become no more than an accessory. 


Like Sam and Nicky, Ginger doesn't want to leave the life. She turns to Nicky asking him to be her new sponsor, trading sexual favours in return. The word spreads like fire. A grave decision has to be made by the bosses. In the end, Sam is back to where he started. Casino was an adventure, one to enjoy as long as it lasts.

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