January 5, 2014



Martin Scorcese, 1995
This mob drama follows a pair of friends Sam Rothstein (Robert De Niro) and Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) as they attempt to build their wealth through different avenues on the 1970's Vegas Strip. Sam works on a more calculated career backed by the mob managing the Tangiers casino while Nicky recklessly uses his mafia ties to strong-arm his way to the top.

Scorcese packs his bags and heads out west to the old Vegas. A Vegas more focused on loyalty and class than pure corporate commercialism. And while much of the film has a lot of Scorcese's familiar elements (dolly shots, Rolling Stones, violence, male dominance, domestic violence, drug use) it's a behemoth of a film as vast as a Casino floor that never makes you feel like you are watching Goodfellas Part II. The camera pans through the elegantly-lit Tangiers with its hypnotic carpeting and lingering cigarette-smoke. At times you're flying over the barren Nevada desert as Pesci chillingly hints at how many problems are solved out there. Pesci's Nicky Santoro is as heedless and unpredictable as Tommy Devito (Goodfellas). But he somehow makes it different. De Niro's Sam Rothstein shows the clear rise and fall of a man very much like Jake La Motta (Raging Bull). Sam puffs his cigarettes as his hair grays and he burns another five minutes off his life. A guy who stays in the game too long. But once again, he somehow makes it different. Sharon Stone giving it her all as the hot-mess-alpha female-in which she was nominated for an Oscar and won a Golden Globe. All playing with the backdrop of the cocaine-fueled, golden-framed 1970's, with so many layers. The deception between two life long friends. The ignored warning signs of a toxic relationship and it's inevitable demise. The naivety of love. Greed. Uncertainty. Political leverage. In the end, it's just another story reminding us of the very finite nature to it all. With everyone having a hand in the money-grab, it can only last for so long before it all falls apart.

There's certainly a poetic quality to the picture. De Niro's narration romanticizes about a better Vegas, back when people knew what kind of drink you wanted when you walked into the casino. Very much like the old Times Square in mid-town Manhattan before it was Disney-fied. Romanticizing about how the good-old-days almost has an ironic comedic quality to it with the mental image of a giant tank of a casino like the Tangiers with a lot of holes on the outside, with gangsters waiting outside trying to fill up their buckets. Scorcese avoids any subtlety as you see the classic Casinos being demolished as next-gen obese tourists ascend on the homogenized MGM Grand, stylistically similar to that great final shot of Gangs of New York as the Brooklyn graveyard gives way to a skyline shot of the Twin Towers.

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