Casino (Movie Review)

Whether it’s opulence, neon signs, or the adrenaline rush of gambling at cards and slots, casinos are designed to make you feel good. They’re places where you can let loose and have a good time, which is why the music is typically upbeat, drinks are available nonstop, and the food choices are delicious. But there’s a darker side to many of these spaces, and this is what Casino explores with wit and honesty.

Unlike other movies about organized crime, which often show only the flashy surface of Vegas life (i.e., partying and weekend bus trips), Casino delves into the city’s past ties to organized crime. It lays bare an intricate web of corruption that stretched from Vegas, with tendrils reaching into politicians, Teamsters unions, and the Chicago mob, to Kansas City, where the Midwest mafia was headquartered.

But the movie also explores how casinos manipulate us to lose our money. The odds are stacked against the player, and even professional card counters cannot beat the house over the long term. But a few drinks can numb the senses and lower our inhibitions, making it easier to rationalize our losses. Plus, the use of chips dissociates the gambling experience from spending real money, so you’re not quite as invested in the outcome.

While it would be easy to list all the things that make Casino great—its soundtrack, Sharon Stone’s career-defining performance, and a host of other elements—the movie’s greatest strength may lie in its dichotomy of two equally dominant narrators. Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco occupy center stage as Henry Hill and Karen, respectively, but neither fundamentally contests the other’s version of reality.

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