Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Casino at Millbrooker Towers

My goodness me, what a busy time I'm having of it at the moment. I've barely had five minutes to stop and breathe over the last few days, so there's not been a great deal going on by way of sticking a bunch of garbled verbiage onto these pages.

However, I've got a minute or two now; so I'll tell you about film club's Sunday night viewing of Martin Scorcese's 1996 Casino.
Film club was a wee bit depleted with Dong off to somewhere or other plying his peculiar trade and Frankenkeith gadding about like he does. So Shazzerooneypoos and us two were the only audience for this epic (three hour) movie.
First up, when all's said and done it's a gangster film; it concerns Sam "Ace" Rothstein (Robert de Niro) trying to run a Las Vegas casino in a (more or less) straight manner whilst having to deal with his lifelong friend and vicious psychopathic gangster Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) who wants to run the whole town his own way. To add complication, Rothstein falls for the drug addled and emotionally unstable Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone) and finds himself in a relationship that despite his straight talking and huge pots of money he cannot control or sustain.
As a gangster film, and as a Scorcese film, there are moments of violence and they are pretty graphic. There are several "look-away" moments; Nicky Santoro putting a rival's head into a vice is unpleasant in the extreme. The film's denouement as Santoro gets his come-uppance is also deeply shocking; I found it quite affecting and difficult to get out of my head.
Putting the violent side of the film to one side (and, naturally the language can get rather fruity as well), what do we have to fill three hours of screen time?
What we have is a fascinating and absorbing tale of inter-relationships, pride, greed and human frailty. Many's the time I've grown bored during an artificially elongated film; a couple of hours is usually plenty of time for the director to tell the story and achieve whatever (s)he wants. Here, you find yourself drawn into an ugly, but surreal, world and totally fixed on the narrative. I found myself really wanting to know what was going to happen to the major characters despite all their inherent unpleasantness;
there isn't a single sympathetic character in the whole film.
The acting from the three principals is beautifully balanced. Pesci and de Niro have an on-screen chemistry of mammoth proportions, each giving his character just enough foibles and individual tics to make them utterly believable. Sharon Stone rises way above her Basic Instinct mugging for the camera and delivers an intense and harried Ginger, an unstable addict: at times full of joie-de-vivre and then shortly afterwards snivelling in abject misery. Mrs The Millbooker and I disagree on whether there was also some underlying mental illness in the characterisation, but whichever way you go it's a fine performance.
Scorcese keeps everything taut in the editing room: as I mentioned, despite the film's length there is never a dull moment - everything has its place and its purpose. The character studies are up close and personal; Scorcese won't allow his cast to hide behind anything - they have to act their socks off for him.
Yep - this one's a great film; of the gangster genre I'd have to say it ranks among the very best. As a study of flawed character it does a fine job of exposing the nakedness and emptiness of the American Dream. Riches are all very well, but it doesn't make you a good person to spend your life acquiring them at any cost.

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