2.35:1 (16x9 Enhanced)
Dolby Digital 5.1
Universal Home Video, $22.98
“GoodFellas 2” was the rather glib critical assessment of Casino, Martin Scorsese’s saga of the Mob experience in Las Vegas, by various naysayers upon the film’s release in 1995. Admittedly, the director was almost daring critics to compare the two pictures he worked with the same writer (Nicholas Pileggi) and cast Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in similar roles in both pictures but a fresh viewing of Casino today reveals it to be even more ambitious than GoodFellas. Whereas GoodFellas focuses on the mercurial career of a New York foot soldier in la cosa nostra, Casino sets its sights on the highest levels of the Mob, showing how its rise and fall in Vegas influenced and reflected the increasing dominance of an even greedier and more heartless entity: multinational corporations.
In another nod to GoodFellas, Scorsese and Casino director of photography Robert Richardson, ASC decided to take the energetic camera movement and vivid colors of the earlier film (shot by Michael Ballhaus, ASC) and heighten them. “It’s a film of excess because [we’re showing] a world of excess,” Scorsese explains in his commentary on this DVD. “So we had an excess of voiceover, color [and] music.” Richardson’s dramatic lighting and blown-out hot spots aptly reflect the pulsating, neon-lit world of The Strip and the roller-coaster emotions of Casino’s characters. The cinematographer’s work is rendered superbly on this highly detailed, nearly grain-free transfer, which is a vast improvement over the terrible, desaturated transfer previously issued by Universal.
Except for Richardson’s absence from the supplemental material, this DVD is a generous and satisfying study of a still-underrated film. An audio-commentary option featuring a number of principals (including Scorsese, Pileggi, producer Barbara De Fina, editor Thelma Schoonmaker and costume designer Rita Ryack) is labeled “Moments With…,” and it quickly becomes clear that the participants’ comments have been spliced together from interviews recorded for the DVD’s making-of documentary. Although Sharon Stone’s maniacal dissertations could have used some heavy editing, there are still plenty of interesting insights interspersed throughout the nearly three-hour run time.
De Fina points out that Richardson’s constantly roving camera helped offset the heavy voiceover narration, and she also defends the graphic violence on display. “At the end [of Scorsese’s films], something usually happens to the person who committed the violence,” she points out. “There’s a morality to it: you live by the sword, you die by the sword.” Pileggi, meanwhile, recalls that Pesci’s makeup made him look so much like Tony “The Ant” Spilotro, the notorious gangster on whom his character was based, that when Pesci entered the casino for the first time, more than a few longtime pit bosses almost fainted.
The rest of the DVD’s supplemental material is provided on its flip side. A making-of documentary (produced by Laurent Bouzereau) is split into four well-organized sections: The Story, The Cast and Characters, The Look, and After the Filming. All segments exhibit a sterling attention to detail; for example, Stone recalls instructing the young actress who played her daughter to annoy fellow actor James Woods in the background of their scenes to add some humorous texture to the frame, and costume designer Ryack describes how she started out dressing “Ace” Rothstein (De Niro) in conservative clothes, but as events become more chaotic, his colors become progressively gaudier (exemplified by the apricot suit jacket he wears when his car explodes).
Pileggi recalls that technical adviser Frank Cullatta, an ex-gangster in the federal Witness Protection Program, was advising an actor on how to shoot someone when Scorsese decided to simply cast Cullatta as the assassin. “So when you see that scene in the movie, you are seeing how [a mob hit] is really done,” says Pileggi. Scorsese, for his part, posits that Casino’s portrait of the Mafia’s collapse in Las Vegas could be interpreted as a prophecy for Hollywood: “The studios keep making bigger, flashier pictures until finally it’s going to explode and the bottom will fall out. We’ll have to continue the nature of cinema in a different way in America.”
Another worthy supplement is an episode of The History Channel’s “True Crime Authors” that focuses on Pileggi and Casino. Despite some cheesy reenactments, the program contains gripping news footage of events depicted in Casino, such as Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal’s talk show and the bloody aftermath of his 1983 car bombing, which he narrowly escaped. Rosenthal, upon whom “Ace” Rothstein is based, reveals in an interview that he revisits his old stomping grounds regularly, despite being put in the infamous “black book” in 1988 by the Las Vegas Gaming Board. (“I’m capable of wearing a beard, a wig and a mustache like anyone else,” he points out. “I sneak in and out of Las Vegas all the time.”)
Rounding out the supplements are a few brief but amusing deleted scenes; “Vegas and the Mob,” a short primer on the history of the Mob’s involvement in Las Vegas; and production notes.