After redefining the gangster film with GoodFellas, director Martin Scorsese, writer Nicholas Pileggi and star Robert De Niro re-teamed for the luxurious crime epic Casino (1995). Together they set out to expose the machinations of the mob in Las Vegas during the 70s but the studios were wary of its three-hour running length. Of course the gamble paid off and the film met with critical and commercial success. Ten years later comes this two-disc Special Edition DVD.
Ace In The Pack
Frank ‘Lefty' Rosenthal (aka the real casino mobster Ace Rothstein) refused to cooperate with Pileggi when he announced plans to write a book on his life. Of course, that all changed when Variety announced that Robert De Niro wanted to play Lefty in the movie version. In The Story featurette, Pileggi explains, "Suddenly it became easier to get information... People who slammed doors in my face, hung up and had their lawyers threaten me - all of a sudden they're calling me up to meet Bob De Niro!" He also talks about collaborating with Scorsese on the script, which juggled scenes out of chronological order. "It's based on riffs," says Scorsese, "It's men talking, telling stories and going off on tangents and digressions."
There's more fascinating insight into the production process in The Cast And Characters featurette. De Niro makes one of his rare appearances to explain the creative shorthand that he's developed with Scorsese and co-star Joe Pesci over the years and, most intriguing of all, Sharon Stone reveals how gruelling it was to try and infiltrate this tightly knit "boys club". At one point she actually bursts into tears recalling how Scorsese finally responded to her calls for attention. Up until that point, she recalls, "It was like Bob and Marty and Joe and Sharon the potted plant". Ah, diddums.
"Bigger, brighter and more sparky," is how production designer Dante Ferretti describes recreating 70s Vegas in The Look featurette. In fact it's a very in-depth look at the design of the film and includes behind-the-scenes footage from the various zebra-skinned and neon-lit sets. "A lot of people go to Vegas because they love the aesthetic of bad taste," notes Scorsese, "If there's any humour there [in the film], it's the humour of excess."
Cutting The Cards
Another of Scorsese's long-time collaborators is editor Thelma Schoonmaker who discusses the cutting of the film. Using demos and comparisons of scenes shot from different angles, she explains how to achieve a more dynamic feel to the action, which has become a hallmark of Scorsese's films. There's also talk about the epic runtime and the friction this created between the director and the studio. "It's a fast three-hour picture!" he insists. On top of that, Scorsese talks you through the brilliant soundtrack.
Much of the same ground is covered again in a bitty commentary weaved together from interview snippets with Scorsese, Stone, Pileggi and various members of the production crew. For a broader look at the context of the film there's an hour-long History Channel documentary revealing how Pileggi was able to piece together the real story of Lefty Rosenthal, plus an NBC TV special on the mafia's reign in Vegas. Lightening the tone is a three-minute reel of deleted scenes and outtakes featuring Scorsese's own mother who balks when he quotes the f-word in a line of dialogue. "Marty," she begs, "my virgin ears!" It's not seamless, but for fans of the great director, and for people who just love movies, Casino: Special Edition is a safe bet.