Monday, September 20, 2004


my repeated viewings of this rollicking, virtuosic epic have always been tinged with the memory of the critical maudlin of my first-year film studies lecturer - she wouldn't be swayed in her belief that it was one of scorcese's worst. which is immensely suprising, by the way - scorcese is basically the GOD of undergraduate film study, which is part of the reason i gave it up after about six months. most of the lectures were devoted to early scorcese, with theoretical dabblings in french film. & a COMPLETE ignorance of kubrick, as if he was just this big enigmatic cinematic black hole who didn't exist or wasn't worth the trouble of tackling.

& since i never summoned up the courage to ask this particular lecturer about her disdain for 'casino', i've always been curious as to how it might be seen as a failure. one theory i've come up with is that it's a strangely flippant film. it deals with fundamentally horrible underworld folk in a really watchable, super-stylised & often funny way. de niro & particularly joe pesci both play not-nice people in scorcese's house-style - fast-talking, swear-word-interjecting, stupendously street-wise: the dramatic anti-heroic. if one was wont to take a moralistic line, you could say that in 'real life' these two guys were probably just violent & efficient idiots. that scorcese succeeds too much in making them so watchable & even (in de niro's case) loveable/respectable; that he should've tried harder to tackle the question of just how sincere/troubled/frustrated a narrator sam goldstein (de niro) really is. that if there are 'emotional truths' behind the goldstein character (as are only hinted at in his constant talk of 'trust', his frustrated 'love' for his wife, his tricky & tormented status as a jew in the underworld) they are overshadowed by the documentary-style, voiceover-dominated music-video pace of the film. & that this, combined with the lack of lengthy emotional dialogues & even close-ups prevents us from getting to know these central characters beyond the crazy las vegas world they live in.

but to say this is to ignore just how wonderfully crafted, how well-put-together, how brilliant 'looking' it is as a film. it's a realist-novel grand-narrative period-piece for the 1970's/80's - characters constantly introduced, names flying everywhere, details & connections all over the place - everything & everyone working & relating & getting along & getting killed with a fictional efficicency. very early on in the film, i think pesci is describing goldstein's work as a bookie 'back home years ago' - scorcese actually flashes the words 'back home years ago' on the screen in exuberant font. this bit of farce is neat evidence that scorcese just loves the whole story - loves the pure self-indulgence & selfish 'world' these crims live in, loves it so much that he wants to share it with us gift-wrapped with all its self-indulgencies & narrative largesse.

more ought to be said about this film, but i need some lunch. how about some comments? how can 'casino' possibly be seen as a bad movie?


Blogger Coleberg said...

Very good review Foxy,

I haven' actually seen the film, but will probably make it the next DVD I hire.

It sounds a bit like a mini series I really enjoyed from the late 80s, Crime Story. You'll probably remember it, had Del Shannon's Runnaway as it's theme.

It was a long Mini Series (about ten episodes). Set in the 60s, it's about two cousins, one a cop and the other a gangster, who owns a Casino.

The cop tries everything in his power to bust his cousin, He pushes him out of Vegas (Nevada) and the cop joins the Federal police so he can keep on his cousin's case.

The cousin moves his business off-shore and joins a Columbian Drug Cartel, The cop joins the International police force to keep on his cousin's case.

The worst part (probably the only bad part) I can remember is the ending, VERY UNIMAGINATIVE.

Thanks for the Casino Blog Foxy, I might try to catch it this weekend and let you know what I think.


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