Poor ol’ Marty. Epic, grandiose, visceral film after film. And what thanks does he get? “Yeah... but it’s not as good as GoodFellas.” Or Mean Streets. Or Taxi Driver. Or Raging Bull. Or... perhaps the time has come to stop battering him, Pesci-like, with his own back catalogue. So, discard the tired GoodFellas Rehashed jibes and assess Casino on its own, numerous, merits.
Every element is exquisitely crafted: the beautiful opening credits from Saul and Elaine Bass; the true-life source material from Nicholas Pileggi; Bob Richardson’s lighting; Dante Ferretti’s attentive set decoration; Rita Ryack’s brilliant, garish costumes; Thelma Schoonmaker’s editing; Robbie Robertson’s musical choices. Then there are the performances: along with Heat, it’s De Niro’s last truly great turn – his buttondown gambler governed by numbers a world-weary lifetime away from Jimmy Conway’s gut-fuelled rage. Joe Pesci’s terrifying as the outlaw let loose in this neon Wild West, while Sharon Stone is a revelation as the hard-headed tart whose mercenary edge blunts on James Woods’ loser boyfriend.
Beyond the technique, beyond the virtuoso tracking shots and swish pans, is a sorrowful, soulful exploration of the march to excess and inevitable descent to Hell. A deliberate metaphor for America and the frenzied, relentless chase for the new and the most.
The first hour crams perspective and foundation into the mix, the second paints temptation in vivid colours and the third sees everything unravel like a slow-motion car crash. Ace’s (De Niro) fatal flaw – marrying a woman he knows won’t love him – keeps the proceedings rooted in humanity, but the semi-journalistic tone ensures there’s no slip into sentimentality. Yes, it’s nearly three hours long. Yes, there’s a lot of narration. But Casino is what it is: another Scorsese masterpiece. And, in the words of Ace Rothstein, that’s that.