Casino is a 1995 American epic crime film directed by Martin Scorsese, starring Robert De Niro, Sharon Stone, and Joe Pesci. It is based on the nonfiction book Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas by Nicholas Pileggi, who also co-wrote the screenplay for the film with Scorsese. The two had previously collaborated on Goodfellas.
The film marks the eighth collaboration between director Scorsese and De Niro, following Mean Streets (1973); Taxi Driver (1976); New York, New York (1977); Raging Bull (1980); The King of Comedy (1982); Goodfellas (1990); and Cape Fear (1991).
In Casino, De Niro stars as Sam “Ace” Rothstein, a Jewish American gambling handicapper who is called by the Chicago Outfit to oversee the day-to-day operations at the Tangiers Casino in Las Vegas. His character is based on Frank Rosenthal, who ran the Stardust, Fremont, and Hacienda casinos in Las Vegas for the Chicago Outfit from the 1970s until the early 1980s. Pesci plays Nicholas “Nicky” Santoro, based on real-life Mob enforcer Anthony Spilotro, a “made man” who could give Ace the protection he needed. Nicky is sent to Vegas to make sure that money from the Tangiers is skimmed off the top and the mobsters in Vegas are kept in line. Sharon Stone plays Ginger McKenna, Ace’s scheming, self-absorbed wife, based on Geri McGee.
Casino was released on November 22, 1995, to a mostly positive critical response, and was a box-office success. Stone’s performance was widely praised, earning her a Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama and a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Actress.
Running time 178 minutes
In 1973, sports handicapper and Mafia associate Sam “Ace” Rothstein is sent to Las Vegas to run the Teamsters Union-funded Tangiers Casino on behalf of the Chicago Outfit, which secretly controls the Teamsters, while Philip Green serves as the Mob’s front man. Taking advantage of gaming laws that allow him to work in a casino while his gaming licence is pending, Sam doubles the casino’s profits, which are skimmed by the Mafia before being reported to income tax agencies.
Impressed with his work, Mafia boss Remo Gaggi sends Sam’s childhood friend and mob enforcer Nicholas “Nicky” Santoro to protect Sam and the whole operation. Nicky’s volatile temper soon gets him banned from every casino in Las Vegas, so he and his henchman Franklin “Frankie” Marino gather their own crew – including Nicky’s younger brother Dominick – and engage in independent shakedowns and burglaries, instead.
Sam meets and falls in love with a hustler and former prostitute, Ginger McKenna. They conceive a daughter and marry, but their marriage is made difficult by Ginger’s covetousness and love for her manipulative ex-boyfriend: con artist-turned-pimp Lester Diamond. Lester is beaten severely by a gang after Sam and Nicky catch him conning Ginger out of some money. Ginger subsequently turns to alcohol and finds solace with Nicky, unaware of his role in the beating. Sam finds out about this and tells Nicky to stay away from her, but Nicky takes no notice; as he continues to stir up trouble within the operation, Sam realizes that Nicky is planning to takeover the Vegas underworld.
In 1980, Sam makes an enemy in county commissioner Pat Webb after firing Webb’s brother-in-law Donald “Don” Ward for incompetence. When Sam refuses to reinstate Ward, Webb pulls Sam’s license from the backlog, forcing him to face a hearing for his gaming license, while secretly arranging for the board to deny Sam. Blaming the incident of Nicky’s recklessness, Sam attempts to get him to leave Vegas; they later meet in a desert, where the two furiously argue after Nicky discovers this. Their friendship continues to deteriorate when Nicky deliberately shows up at the Tangiers, and attacks the manager: Sam’s associate Billy Sherbert.
The casino counters begin skimming money for themselves. The bosses find out and place Kansas City underboss Artie Piscano in charge of overseeing the transactions. Piscano is unable to find the thieves, but keeps tabs on everything he knows about Vegas in a private notebook and rants about it to his mother in his grocery store. The FBI, investigating a separate crime, have wired Piscano’s store to overhear his detailed complaints – which they use, complete with names, to gradually begin investigating the casino.
Tired of her alcoholism, Sam finally seeks to divorce Ginger, who then kidnaps their daughter – Amy: she takes her to Los Angeles, and plans for them to flee to Europe with Lester. Sam convinces Ginger to come back with Amy, but cannot hide his anger over her not admitting to her cocaine use. After he overhears Ginger talking on the phone about having him killed, Sam kicks her out of the house; however, he later relents and allows her to come back. Ginger then approaches Nicky for help in getting her valuables from her and Sam’s shared safety deposit box, and the two start an affair. Sam discovers this after finding Amy tied to her bed by Ginger, who is with Nicky at his restaurant.
Sam confronts and disowns Ginger, whom Nicky then throws out of the restaurant when she demands he kill Sam. A furious and drunk Ginger crashes her car into Sam’s driveway the next morning, making a scene, and retrieves the key to their deposit box after distracting the attending police. Sam rushes to the bank to stop Ginger after deducing this, but the officers stop him. Even though she succeeds in taking most of the money from the safety deposit box, she is arrested by the FBI as a material witness.
Having gathered enough evidence, the FBI moves in and closes the casino in 1983. Dominick and Frankie are arrested for their involvement in the operation, and later released without charge, but Nicky has already skipped town before he himself could get caught. Green decides to cooperate with the authorities. Piscano gets so upset by this that he dies of a heart attack upon observing federal agents discover his notebook. The FBI approach Sam for help by showing him photos of Nicky and Ginger together, but he turns them down. The bosses are put on trial after being taken into custody. Knowing that they will be convicted, they decide to eliminate anyone involved in the scheme to prevent them from testifying and prolonging their coming sentences; among those killed are three casino executives, Teamsters head Andy Stone, and money courier John Nance.
Ginger travels to Los Angeles following her release, where she ultimately wastes all of her money and soon dies from a drug overdose in a motel. Back in Vegas, Sam is almost killed by a car bomb – as depicted earlier on in the film’s beginning – and suspects Nicky was behind it. Sam plans to confront Nicky, but never gets his chance; Nicky and Dominick are later lured into a meeting with Frankie and their crew in a cornfield, only to get brutally beaten and buried alive – with the bosses finally having had enough of Nicky’s temerarious behavior and suspecting his role in Sam’s car bombing.
With the Mob now out of power, the old casinos are purchased by big corporations and demolished. The corporations build new and gaudier attractions, which Sam laments are not the same as when the Mafia was in control. Sam subsequently retires to San Diego and continues to live as a sports handicapper for the Mob, in his own words, ending up “right back where I started”.
Robert De Niro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein
Joe Pesci as Nicholas “Nicky” Santoro
Sharon Stone as Ginger McKenna
James Woods as Lester Diamond
Frank Vincent as Frankie Marino
Don Rickles as Billy Sherbert
L. Q. Jones as Clark County Commissioner Pat Webb
Kevin Pollak as Philip Green
Alan King as Andy Stone
Pasquale Cajano as Remo Gaggi
John Bloom as Donald “Don” Ward
Dick Smothers as Nevada State Senator Harrison Roberts
Philip Suriano as Dominick Santoro
Bill Allison as John Nance
Vinny Vella as Artie Piscano
The research for Casino began when screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi read a 1980 report from the Las Vegas Sun about a domestic argument between Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, a casino figure, and his wife Geri McGee, a former topless dancer. This gave him an idea to focus on a new book about the true story of mob infringement in Las Vegas during the 1970s, when filming of Goodfellas (whose screenplay he co-wrote with Scorsese) was coming to an end. The fictional Tangiers resort reflected the story of the Stardust Resort and Casino, which had been bought by Argent Corporation in 1974 using loans from the Teamsters Central States Pension Fund. Argent was owned by Allen Glick, but the casino was believed to be controlled by various organized crime families from the Midwest. Over the next six years, Argent Corporation siphoned off between $7 and $15 million using rigged scales. This skimming operation, when uncovered by the FBI, was the largest ever exposed. A number of organized crime figures were convicted as a result of the skimming.
Pileggi contacted Scorsese about taking the lead of the project, which became known as Casino. Scorsese expressed interest, calling this an “idea of success, no limits.” Pileggi was keen to release the book and then concentrate on a film adaptation, but Scorsese encouraged him to “reverse the order.”
Scorsese and Pileggi collaborated on the script for five months, towards the end of 1994. Real-life characters were reshaped, such as Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, Geri McGee, Anthony Spilotro, and Spilotro’s brother. Some characters were combined, and parts of the story were set in Kansas City instead of Chicago. A problem emerged when they were forced to refer to Chicago as “back home” and use the words “adapted from a true story” instead of “based on a true story.”
They also decided to simplify the script, so that the character of Sam “Ace” Rothstein only worked at the Tangiers Casino, in order to show a glimpse of the trials involved in operating a Mafia-run casino hotel without overwhelming the audience. According to Scorsese, the initial opening sequence was to feature the main character, Sam Rothstein, fighting with his estranged wife Ginger on the lawn of their house. The scene was too detailed, so they changed the sequence to show the explosion of Sam’s car and him flying into the air before hovering over the flames in slow motion—like a soul about to go straight down to hell.
Filming took place at night in the Riviera casino in Las Vegas, with the nearby defunct Landmark Hotel as the entrance, to replicate the fictional Tangiers. According to the producer Barbara De Fina, there was no point in building a set if the cost were the same to use a real-life one. The opening scene, with Sam’s car exploding, was shot three times; the third take was used for the film. When first submitted to the MPAA, the film received an NC-17 rating due to its depictions of violence. Several edits were made in order to reduce the rating to R.
The film grossed $42 million in North America and $116 million worldwide on a $40–50 million budget.
Upon its release, the film was heavily criticized for its intense violence. It received mostly positive reviews from critics, although their praise was more muted than it had been for the thematically similar Goodfellas, released only five years earlier, with some reviewers criticizing Scorsese for retreading familiar territory. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, the film has an approval rating of 80% based on 62 reviews, with an average rating of 7.2/10. The site’s critical consensus reads, “Impressive ambition and bravura performances from an outstanding cast help ‘Casino pay off in spite of a familiar narrative that may strike some viewers as a safe bet for director Martin Scorsese” On Metacritic, the film has a weighted average score of 73 out of 100, based on 17 critics, indicating “generally favorable reviews”. The film’s critical profile has increased in recent years, with several critics expressing that, in retrospect, they feel it is a more accomplished and artistically mature work than the thematically similar Goodfellas.
List of Accolades
|Award / Festival
|Golden Globe Award
|Golden Globe Award for Best Director
|Golden Globe Award
|Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama
|Best Actress in a Leading Role
|Guys Choice 2016
|Guy Movie Hall of Fame
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- “Angelina/Zooma, Zooma Medley” by Louis Prima
- “Hoochie Coochie Man” by Muddy Waters
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- “Nights in White Satin” by The Moody Blues
- “How High the Moon” by Les Paul & Mary Ford
- “Hurt” by Timi Yuro
- “Ain’t Got No Home” by Clarence ‘Frogman’ Henry
- “Without You” by Nilsson
- “Love Is the Drug” by Roxy Music
- “I’m Sorry” by Brenda Lee
- “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac
- “The Thrill Is Gone” by B.B. King
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- “The ‘In’ Crowd” by Ramsey Lewis
- “Stardust” by Hoagy Carmichael
- “Walk on the Wild Side” by Jimmy Smith
- “Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa-Fa (Sad Song)” by Otis Redding
- “I Ain’t Superstitious” by Jeff Beck Group
- “The Glory of Love” by The Velvetones
- “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” by Devo
- “What a Diff’rence a Day Made” by Dinah Washington
- “Working in the Coal Mine” by Lee Dorsey
- “The House of the Rising Sun” by The Animals
- “Toad” by Cream
- “Who Can I Turn To (When Nobody Needs Me)” by Tony Bennett
- “Slippin’ and Slidin'” by Little Richard
- “You’re Nobody Till Somebody Loves You” by Dean Martin
- “Compared to What” (Live) by Les McCann & Eddie Harris
- “Basin Street Blues/When It’s Sleepy Time Down South” by Louis Prima
- “St. Matthew Passion (Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder)” by Johann Sebastian Bach (Chicago Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Georg Solti)