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Robert De Niro is one of the best actors of all time. Even with his recent lack of decent productions, his filmography is one of the most illustrious in history, including several movies that would feature in many all-time top fifty lists. Although he made some great films without the help of the supreme director Martin Scorsese, their collaborations mark several milestones not only in their legacies but also in the history of film itself. From Mean Streets to Taxi Driver, Raging Bull to Goodfellas, their work together stands out as simply superb. Their last collaboration to date was Casino, released around the same time as De Niro’s other epic nineties masterpiece, Heat and completing Scorsese’s loose trilogy of gangster epics.

Casino: Special Edition
Film
‘Vegas in the 70s. Before big business. Before the Feds wised up. Before the Families moved out. One man ran the show.’

Sam ‘Ace’ Rothstein is at the top of his game. The best handicapper in the business, he is so accurate with his race predictions that the mob bosses he feeds decide to give him a casino to run—figuring it to be the next logical step for such a proficient earner. Initially he finds Las Vegas easy work, monitoring his new business with eagle eyes and coming down hard like a hammer on anybody who tries to cheat, but between falling for the wrong woman and the arrival of his violent best friend, he soon finds his life falling apart. For a man who earns a living by being in control of all the variables, these two highly unpredictable and uncontrollable people prove to be his downfall.

‘Ace was dealt the hand of a lifetime. A casino to run. A fortune to spend. And the loyalty of the boys back home. And then Nicky and Ginger joined the game.’

Scorsese has fashioned a masterful new gangster film, a sprawling epic about the big Las Vegas hay-day and how everything changed forever after people got too greedy and things got too out of control. His directing is on top form, capturing the glamour, horror and the breadth of his subject with as much attention to the detail as to the broader strokes. From the infamous vice torture scene to the intricate workings of a glamorous casino, Scorsese paints his picture perfectly, taking his Goodfellas theme to the next level whilst still retaining a foundation for his story that is very human and inherently accessible to the viewer.

‘There was a time on the strip when murder settled bets, blackmail evened the odds and revenge was the payout. This is the story of the good old days.’

Casino: Special Edition
His choice of cast is of course perfect, with De Niro headlining and on top form as Ace. Although less confrontational and aggressive than some of his other on-screen personas, Ace is still a conflicted, complicated person for De Niro to get to grips with and he does so with the skill and strength you only expect but still marvel at from one of the greatest actors ever. Partnering him up with long-term collaborator Joe Pesci was a clever move because you know exactly what to expect when you put these two together. Here he plays the same character that Pesci has been typecast as ever since Goodfellas—an extremely short-tempered violent psychopath—but with the added twist that he is more ostensibly an out-and-out bad-guy. Although starting out as Ace’s best friend Nicky, just like he was De Niro’s character’s best friend in Goodfellas, he soon descends into drugs and greed and general excess to the point where he is endangering the lives of everybody he knows. Completing the trio at the centre of the production is Sharon Stone as the supposed love of Ace’s life, Ginger, who actually turned out to be probably the biggest factor in the downfall of this entire empire. Stone does a superb job in the role, so much so that I actually detested the character and her behaviour, although you can see the foolishness of Ace in thinking that he could possibly control this woman.

‘You beat him with fists, he comes back with a bat. You beat him with a knife, he comes back with a gun. If you beat him with a gun, you’d better kill him because he’ll keep coming back and back until one of you is dead.’

The whole movie revolves around these three characters, but at the same time plays out at a much bigger level, telling the stories of many others involved and the big-scale implications of the mistakes that were made. Ace, Nicky and Ginger pretty-much single-handedly managed to destroy the huge money-making business that the mob had set themselves up with in Las Vegas through greed, corruption and betrayal. Amongst the rest of the cast we get the great and vastly underused James Woods as Ginger’s sleazy ex-boyfriend/pimp and Goodfellas regulars Frank Vincent, Philip Suriano, John Sanca and Ronald Maccone returning as mobsters, alongside Don Rickles and Kevin Pollak and Casino workers. In fact, Scorsese apparently used real policemen to play the police, some real mobsters to play the aged wiseguys and real casino dealers in the casino. As I stated, it is a perfectly chosen cast and partnered with such a brilliant script and masterful direction, what you have here is a top-notch gangster epic made by the best people for the job working at the top of their game. Not to be missed.

‘The town will never be the same. Today it looks like Disneyland.’

Video
Casino is presented in a beautifully broad and glossy 2.35:1 aspect ratio anamorphically enhanced widescreen transfer. Perfectly capturing the angled shots and landscape views with the same detail and clarity as the facial close-ups, the transfer exhibits softness only when intended (i.e. when depicting the ‘good old days’ and trying to make all the actors look younger). There is a little noticeable grain running through some scenes but thankfully no digital artefacting to interfere with your viewing pleasure. The colour scheme is broad and vivid—sometimes positively garish to reflect the nature of Vegas—and the blacks are deep, dark and solid. It is generally an extremely good transfer that has next to nothing wrong with it.

Casino: Special Edition
Audio
The main audio track is a solid Dolby Digital 5.1 effort that pushes all the right buttons. Although the dialogue is extremely important, and is presented never less than clearly, the most noticeable aspect of the mix is the score. Rousing and emotional, both the soundtrack songs and the score itself are perfectly set to the scenes and the on-screen action. Speaking of action, the effects sound superb—most notably the car explosions and the sound of breaking bones—with the occasional shootout also allowing for some decent directionality from the speakers. It is a perfectly decent track that showcases the film in a near-perfect way, but I still have slight reservations over whether or not a DTS track might have just had the edge. The secondary track is a Hungarian-dubbed Dolby Digital 5.1 effort.

Extras
First up there is an audio commentary with the writer/director Martin Scorsese, the writer Nicholas Pileggi, and other member of the cast and crew. Recorded separately the commentary is still pieced together quite well, although it is often disjointed when compared to the on-screen action. Perhaps a scene-specific commentary by just one or two of them would have been better but I do appreciate that talking for three hours is something that none of them probably wanted to do and it is certainly nice having so many contribute. Scorsese talks about his films with Universal and how closely this production stuck to the script. Producer Barbara De Fina talks about how the movie was finished before the book that it was purportedly based upon and Nicholas Pileggi discusses the merits of this being the concluding chapter in Scorsese’s mob trilogy. Pileggi’s contributions are probably the most interesting, in particular where he talks about the comments that he got from the various real-life people that the characters were based upon and how these word-for-word made up a great deal of the dialogue and the voiceovers. Overall it is very worthy of your time and can easily be listened to in segments. The first disc also houses several pages of production notes which are quite interesting to read about but not altogether unfamiliar—most of this information can be gleamed from either watching the movie or listening to the commentary.

All of the rest of the extras are housed on the second disc. First up we get several new featurettes. ‘Casino: The Story’ runs at eight minutes in length and features author/screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi talking about his fascination with Vegas, what he based the story on and how the real man was very happy to be portrayed onscreen by De Niro. Scorsese has some input, discussing comparisons with Goodfellas and some of the techniques he carried across from the films, along with the cast members he retained. It is quite a nice featurette, mainly consisting of interview segments and thankfully few clips from the movie and with some nice stills, great concept art and momentary glimpses of behind the scenes footage.

Casino: Special Edition
Next up we get ‘Casino: The Cast and Characters’, a twenty-minute featurette where Scorsese talks about the cast he chose and how they work so well together, how he used a real mob enforcer as a technical supervisor and even gave him a small cameo. There is some extremely rare footage of De Niro in interview talking about how they all had a mutual trust and discussing working with the real person his character was based on. Joe Pesci and Sharon Stone also contribute and overall it is an interesting and mature featurette with some nice anecdotes from the production. ‘The Look’ is a seventeen minute featurette on the visual importance of casino, with much more behind the scenes footage than the other documentaries. It has discussions with three main crew members in interview—the editor Thelma Schoonmaker, the production designer Dante Ferretti and the costume designer Rita Ryack, all talking about the various key shots in the movie and putting in their own individual anecdotes about the production. Some of the trivia is quite amazing—De Niro’s character required seventy different suits for the movie and there were even fifty made for Sharon Stone as well. There are also some brief storyboard comparison shots and this is a featurette well worth your time.

The final new featurette, ‘After the Filming’, looks at the editing and post-production process, along with the marketing involved for the release. Running at ten minutes in length it features most of the crew basically praising Scorsese’s meticulous handiwork. By now I realised that these were all great featurettes with one problem—the material in them is the same used in the commentary—they appear to have just cut and pasted the comments from the core production people. I recognised material from Scorsese, Schoonmaker, De Fina, Pileggi and Ryack, all in all making many of these featurettes suddenly much less worthwhile. On reflection, given the duplication of material, the featurettes are probably the best bet for fans—at least you get both new visual and aural information that way.

There is some deleted footage, with an extra minute of Scorsese’s mother, a couple of new bits of dialogue for Nicky and an extended moment with De Niro, although most of the footage plays more like a gag reel of on-set jokes rather than actual scenes that were removed.

‘Vegas and the Mob’ is a thirteen minute NBC featurette on the truth behind Las Vegas. With footage of the old casinos being destroyed, stills of the original mafia bosses involved in the making of Vegas, black and white archive footage and interviews with the current Mayor, it is a fairly interesting watch. It was great to hear about mobster ‘Bugsy’ Siegel, who was largely responsible for the creation of the Las Vegas that we know today and whose story was told in the Warren Beatty film Bugsy, but who was never mentioned in Casino. The comparison shots of the real-life individuals with the characters that were portrayed in the movie provide quite a nice touch and there are some great little nuggets of trivia to gleam in this fairly glossy and occasionally fluffy featurette.

Finally we get a forty-five minute History Channel production on ‘true crime author’ Nicholas Pileggi and his work on Casino. The featurette intersplices interview footage from Pileggi himself with dramatic reconstruction footage of many of the real incidents that he went on to put into Casino. It is quite interesting in that it helps to distinguish the fact from fiction – and great to finally get shots of the man Ace was based on—but cheap reconstructions are no substitute for the film footage itself and this still adds up to an overlong and fairly glossy featurette.

Casino: Special Edition
Overall
Casino is a marvellous epic made by some supreme masters of the genre back when they were doing some of their best work. However good their work was before, De Niro and Scorsese are unlikely to ever be this good again, together or apart. So it is great that this movie has finally received the treatment that it deserves, with a feature-packed two-disc edition that has excellent technical specifications and almost every extra you would want for the movie—even if some of the material is duplicated. If you’ve got the bare-bores release then this is one of the few worthy upgrades that I have come across recently and if you haven’t got this film in your collection besides Goodfellas then you should go out and pick it up right now.

‘In a casino, the cardinal rule is to keep them playing and keep them coming back. The longer they play, the more they lose. In the end, we get it all.’


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