Casino (Movie Review)

From the glitzy strip clubs of Las Vegas to the illegal pai gow parlors of Chinatown, Casino takes viewers on a global tour of institutions that offer the chance to try one’s hand at gambling. These establishments may look like glamorous showplaces from the outside, but their design is carefully calibrated to create a sense of grift.

You will not see a clock in a casino, because the people managing the facility want you to lose track of time so you won’t stop spinning those roulette wheels or hitting that poker machine. Moreover, casinos often change your real money into chips that are colored in order to disassociate the losses from your actual spending, making it more difficult to walk away. In addition, casinos will often entice patrons to spend more by giving them free food, drinks and hotel rooms if they are frequent players (and good at gambling).

Robert De Niro delivers a masterful performance as Sam “Ace” Rothstein in Casino, and the movie’s opulent lighting and sound design enhance his worldview as an old-school gangster who believes that love and trust are dicey propositions. Scorsese’s ambivalence about institutional systems of grift is underscored by the movie’s truly hellacious violence, which includes a popped eyeball and a baseball bat beating that was so brutal it had to be trimmed to avoid an NC-17 rating. Nevertheless, the thrill of gambling gives Casino its energy, and it’s impossible to watch without a smile.

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