The true story of Sam 'Ace' Rothstein (Robert De Niro), a shrewd, Mafia-connected casino operator, whose assured, mannered existence is undone by his devotion to his flighty wife, Ginger and his boyhood friend Nicky (Joe Pesci), a wild card who fancies his chances on Ace's patch.
De Niro and Pesci narrate the extended opening, detailing the mechanics of skimming money from the casino to pass onto the bosses back home. This sequence ends with the glorious introduction of Sharon Stone's showgirl hustler Ginger, all fur, jewels and blonde ambition, who casts gambling chips into the air. On a security monitor, De Niro watches her exuberant transgression, and falls in love. So begins his downfall, and the end of Mob rule in Vegas.
Where GoodFellas explored the allure of being a Brooklyn wise guy, with a hair-trigger comic sensibility, Casino emphasises the remorseless fear and grind of a mobster's life, all its attraction purged in two horrifically violent set-pieces. One, a torture scene with a vice, has been rightly condemned as gratuitous - but it is the closing beating that truly disturbs, two men brutally disfigured by repeated whacks with metallic bats that, as they are tipped into the grave, their featureless faces frozen in a contorted howl, it's almost as if a new species has emerged from the violence, only to be suddenly, cruelly, aborted. There is no romanticism in this view of the Mafia.
Scorsese making a gangster film with Joe Pesci and Robert De Niro raised no eyebrows, and led some critics to accuse him of hitting a rut. All the same, with its ferocity and maturity, particularly in the responsibilities weighing upon the wise guys, Casino can be seen a closing chapter in the evolution of a gangster community, from its street heyday in Mean Streets to its adjustment to the new drug trade in Goodfellas to its final giving way to the power of the corporations in the eighties.