Casino Remastered Edition Blu-ray Review: Paradise in the Desert Lost

Directed by Martin Scorsese who co-wrote the script with Nicholas Pileggi, based on the latter’s Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas, Casino fictionalizes the story of how the mob lost their casinos in Las Vegas, due in part to the relationship between casino manager Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, mob enforcer Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, and Frank’s wife Geri. In the film they are the characters Sam “Ace” Rothstein, Nicky Santoro, and Ginger. Casino thematically completes a gangster trilogy that started with the young hoods on the Mean Streets of Little Italy. Those kids became the mobsters of Goodfellas, who then matured into trusted, high-level positions; however, they didn’t mature enough because as Nicky says, they “fucked it all up.”

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Ace (Robert De Niro) is so good at sports betting he is sent by the Chicago bosses to run the Tangiers hotel. In real life, Rosenthal took over the Stardust, which is alluded to by having three different versions of the song “Stardust” appear on the soundtrack. Ace falls for Ginger (Sharon Stone), who he knows is a hustler. Ace says, “for a girl like Ginger, love costs money,” but he doesn’t care and is willing to take the long shot that she’ll come around. It’s a sucker bet.

Nicky (Joe Pesci) is also sent to Vegas by the bosses but his job is to make sure nobody messes with Ace or their scam of skimming the casino’s money. He is of equal importance to this story, which is made apparent by his sharing the voiceover narration with Ace. Unfortunately for Ace and the mob, Nicky would rather rule in Vegas than serve in Chicago. He immediately begins to set his own rules. “When he won, he collected. When he lost, he told the bookies to go fuck themselves.” He had plans to take over the town and if the bosses didn’t like it, he was more than ready to start a war with them.

Ginger is a disaster waiting to happen and Ace was too blinded by her beauty to see it. Aside from being a hustler, she’s a drunk and a drug addict who can’t live the role Ace wants her to. She is desperate to get away from Ace and turns to the one guy in Vegas that’s bigger than him, Nicky. She uses the only thing she has to offer that Nicky wants, her body. This is a big problem because the bosses don’t like guys screwing around with other guy’s wives.

Scorsese saw Casino as a retelling of Paradise Lost. Adam and Eve lost the Garden of Eden because of their sin of pride. Ace had been given “one of the biggest casinos in Las Vegas to run” by the bosses. He referred to it as “paradise on Earth,” and it too was lost because of pride as well as the other deadly sins. The fall from grace is foreshadowed in the title sequence, created by the legendary Saul and Elaine Bass. After Ace’s car explodes, he is seeing falling into Hell while Bach’s “St. Matthew’s Passion” plays on the soundtrack.

What I am especially impressed with in Scorsese as a director is that he understands film is a visual medium, allowing the story to be shown rather than told. One great example is exquisitely presented after Ace and Ginger’s wedding. He knew she didn’t return his feelings but thought he could control her by buying her love. When he takes her to their new home, Ginger is wearing a vibrant outfit that has all the colors of the rainbow. In contrast, Ace is wearing dark, muted colors. He shows her around and unveils a chinchilla mink for her that is black, gray and white. He puts it on her and hugs her tight, but her colorful headband is still visible. The scene is wonderful metaphor for the characters and their relationship.

Scorsese does the same thing with his musical choices. He captures the emotion and essence of a scene by using the soundtrack to supplement information. When Ginger asks Nicky to help get her jewels out of the bank so she can leave Ace, the music playing softly in the background is B.B. King’s “The Thrill Is Gone.”

There are some special moments for the serious Scorsese aficionado, such as Frank Vincent finally getting to give Joe Pesci a beating after taking one in Raging Bull and Goodfellas. Another great scene is with Scorsese’s mother, Catherine, who makes her last film appearance. She plays Piscano’s Mother and has a hysterical scene where she chastises him for cursing. She’s perfect in the role.

The video is given a 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC encoded transfer displayed at an aspect ratio of 2.35:1. The remastered picture looks great. The wide spectrum of colors, from pastel hues to richly saturated ones, look fantastic. The neon reds in the title sequence and the green felt on the tables pop off the screen. Blacks are inky and whites are accurate, allowing for a strong contrast. Some of the lights are too bright and blown out. The image looks clean and delivers a sharp image that reveals good depth.

The audio is available in DTS:X. Dialogue is clear out the center front channel, the ambient effects play across the front, the songs on the soundtrack play through the surrounds.

The Bonus Features have appeared on previous Casino home-video releases. They are:

  • Deleted Scenes (3 min) – Taken from four scenes, these are better described as deleted takes.
  • Casino: The Story (8 min) – Pileggi explains he was working on the book at the same time he and Scorsese worked on the script. Understandably, they were having trouble getting Rosenthal and others to open up about their lives. When Pileggi let it be known that Scorsese was making a movie and Rosenthal was going to be played by Robert De Niro, the floodgates opened and everyone became very forthcoming. Pileggi also discusses his how he used the words of his interviewees to create the dialogue because their voices were so much more natural and authentic than anything he could create.
  • Casino: The Cast and Characters (20 min) – Major cast and crew members talk about their work on the film. DeNiro, Pesci, and Sharon Stone explain their working relationship with Scorsese and each other.
  • Casino: The Look (17 min) – Production designer Dante Ferreti talks about creating the look of the ‘70s for the film. Rita Ryack discusses the costumes, which were a serious undertaking with DeNiro’s character alone.
  • Casino: After the Filming (9 min) – Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s editor since Raging Bull, gives some of the credit to Scorsese because his vision is so focused and clear that he almost shoots the entire film as it is going to be seen, leaving her to trim the heads and tails of the scenes. This was the first film she ever edited digitally.
  • Vegas and the Mob (14 min) – NBC News’s Josh Mankiewicz hosts this look at the city’s history.
  • History Alive: True Crime Authors – Casino with Nicholas Pileggi (44 min) – A History Channel program tells the true story Casino was based on, combining reenactments and news footage. Pileggi and Rosenthal appear in interviews.

Instead of a commentary track, there is an optional audio track called “Moments with…” that takes audio clips of interviews from the cast and crew and for the majority of the time the subject matter corresponds to what’s on the screen. Unfortunately, a good portion of this audio is from the interviews that appear in the other extras, so I felt cheated since I had watched them first. I would have like to have heard Scorsese dissecting the film as he watched it. At times, I found it hard to concentrate on the “Moments with…” because the visuals are so captivating.

Casino is filled with brutal violence and strong language, so it might be too rough for some. I found it to be a magnificent portal into a world that should only be viewed from afar. The cast and crew all excel in their craft, especially Sharon Stone, who agrees with me that this is the best work she has ever done. I enjoy the film more each time I see it because it is so rich in details. Thankfully, what happens in Vegas doesn’t always stay there.

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Gordon S. Miller

Publisher/Editor-in-Chief of this site. "I'm making this up as I go" - Indiana Jones

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