It’s crazy to think that later this month, Casino will be turning 20 years old. I’ve seen this film roughly 5,380 times and I’ll likely see it another 5,380 times more. It’s a fabulously engrossing saga of Las Vegas sin and sleaze from the very first masterful frame all the way until the last. Some have called it Goodfellas Gone West, and that’s not far off, but stylistically, the two films are very different, while of course sharing some similar traits. Casino is epic, where Goodfellas stressed the intimate, and it’s the smart way that Scorsese and his writers pulled all of the small and big pieces together that they were able to concoct a packed narrative that still remained coherent. Cinematographer Robert Richardson was in full-on flamboyant mode here, with massive crane shots, huge camera-arm movements, with as dynamic of a sense of how to shoot in widescreen that can possibly be referenced. The film is truly massive in both visual scope and story structure, with one element complimenting the other, as Scorsese ladled on the blood, profanity, and gangster tropes that everyone would expect from the master of this particular milieu.
There’s a journalistic sweep that encompasses much of Casino, with Richardson’s always-searching camera gliding over the action, covering the various back-room deals and violent confrontations with extreme, flashy style. Scorsese was obsessive in the details both large and small during Casino, which allowed Richardson the chance to gaze his camera upon the glitz and glamour that Las Vegas exudes. There’s a mind-boggling amount of three to five minute long stedicam shots in this film, which gives off an observational quality from moment to moment. It’s sort of ridiculous to be honest. Richardson lit Sharon Stone like a goddess in this film, always showing off her eclectic wardrobe and sexy make-up to maximum effect; do you think she had 10,000 costume changes? Everyone in the cast was just perfect, with De Niro and Pesci doing their best “one-two” with each other, while Richardson and Scorsese caught all of the sly moments from these two supreme actors which helps make this film what it is – an obsessive study of excess and greed and power. There’s even a Smothers Brother in this film!
There’s a level of verisimilitude that Richardson and his crew brought to this film, from the practical locations to the fully decked out sets to all of the character actors and “faces around the tables” that help to produce a tableaux effect – it’s a perfect distillation of a bygone era. And then there’s also the freewheeling sense of visual flamboyance (this is Vegas after all!) that Casino possesses, which separates it from other genre entries, and it felt like the next logical step for Scorsese in terms of his fascination with this subject matter. This was one of those movies that blew the doors off my cinema-mind 20 years ago, an example of what I’d like to call bravura filmmaking. Casino is akin to an out of control but still somehow in control locomotive that just never wants to stop moving. “An equal amount of blueberries in each muffin” POWER.