Sep. 6, 2011

filmsgraded.com:
Casino (1995)
Grade: 55/100

Director: Martin Scorsese
Stars: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone

What it's about. An A-list gangster movie. Highly successful bookie Robert De Niro is made manager of a mobster-run Vegas casino. Obnoxious sadist Joe Pesci is brought in to protect De Niro, but instead runs amok. De Niro falls for high class grifter/prostitute Sharon Stone, who in turn loves dufus pimp James Woods.

At first, everyone is happy, and the money is rolling in. But since success is boring, matters move to the other extreme. Stone becomes a shrill cocaine addict, Pesci is harassed by the Feds, all the characters scream at each other, and paradise is lost.

How others will see it. Initial reaction to Casino was mild disappointment. Eventually, the film turned a profit, and a single Oscar nomination was squeezed out from Stone's role. Comparisons were inevitable to a prior three-hour Scorsese gangster movie, Goodfellas, especially since that film was significantly better.

But time has been relatively kind to Casino. Gangster movies are a popular genre, and audiences never seem to tire of Pesci's violent antics or De Niro's gloomy mug, even if they were younger and better in Raging Bull. Casino has a whopping 132K votes so far at imdb.com, and its rating of 8.2 out of 10 is enough to secure it within the much-promoted imdb Top 250.

Unsurprisingly, men like it more than do women (8.2 vs. 7.6), and male ratings decline with age, from 8.6 under age 18 to 7.6 over age 45. Women over 45 give it just 6.3, probably none too pleased with the violence, or the way Sharon Stone is abused and deteriorates. But it's safe to say that everyone is glad to see Pesci rolled into a corn field grave.

How I felt about it. The movie begins well enough, and is moderately engaging despite Pesci's grating high-pitched voice-overs. Casino becomes unpleasant by the time De Niro is obsessed with keeping Sharon Stone in line. Soon, we stop caring for the characters altogether. They are so dislikable, or even detestable, that they deserve whatever happens to them.

There are plenty of reasons to regard this movie as overrated. Violence is excessive and unjustified. For example, a card cheat has his hand smashed with a hammer. At a major Vegas casino? This is not a third world dive. Why would any gangster willingly wait for another gangster in the desert or a corn field. It's like asking to be murdered.

Then there's the language. Pesci uses the f-word as often as the letter 'e'. Narration is overused. The film is derivative of better predecessors (Once Upon a Time in America, Goodfellas, Raging Bull) but seems to take its spirit instead from the wrong role model, Scarface. Finally, there's Robbie Robertson's oldies collection. Robertson has been salting Scorsese soundtracks with great songs ever since he left the road after The Last Waltz. We especially enjoy The Velvetones' "The Glory of Love."

In fact, I would rather listen to Robertson's record collection than watch Casino. It does these great records shame to break them into disparate pieces and associate them with the destructive, violent antics of highly compensated Hollywood actors. How many times before in films have seen an angry women drive a car into several others? We're supposed to enjoy that stereotype? Does throwing in an unrelated oldie make it any better?