The 1995 award-winning film Casino tells the inside story of the secretive and unstable men who ran the billion-dollar Las Vegas gambling industry in the 1970s and 1980s. The film follows mobsters Sam “Ace” Rothstein (Robert De Niro), who runs the Tangiers casino, and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), a strongman who shakes down the locals. They run a smooth operation until Ace falls in love with hustler Ginger (Sharon Stone). Promising her everything she wants, the couple get married and have a child but they spiral into the world of drugs and violence.
The film reveals the two-faced nature of Las Vegas, focusing on the underworld, which is very overwhelming. While the star-studded cast bring life to their roles, the film is marred by a constant narration from several characters, who tell more than they need to. Much of this information could have been better portrayed in action and dialogue, allowing audiences to connect with these characters. Instead, the conflicting narrators push the viewer away so they always feel a gaping distance. Director Martin Scosese likely chose this narration method to unsettle viewers and bring the reality of Las Vegas’ two-facedness home to the audience. While it is an effective technique, it is unsettling and makes watching the film an uncomfortable experience. Moreover, Ace and Ginger’s horrific and heart-wrenching fights over Ace’s money and their child, the brutal bashings Nicky inflicts on anyone who won’t do as he says, as well as the unrelenting soundtrack, help to highlight the harshness of Las Vegas’ true nature.
From a technical position, the film deserves its awards. Yet, I found myself wanting to connect with these characters despite continually being pushed away, not only by the narration but also by the horrible deeds the characters performed. It made for a very awkward viewing experience. As such, it’s not for the faint hearted.