Five years after he took the world by storm with his acclaimed gangster epic Goodfellas, Martin Scorsese graced movie audiences with his slightly less acclaimed gangster epic Casino. Due to its similar themes, narrative, style, and casting to Goodfellas, Casino felt less like a breath of fresh air and more like a retread.
It was initially dismissed as a Goodfellas rip-off, and while this is true in many ways, it could also be argued that the critics responded too harshly to Casino. So, here are five reasons Martin Scorsese’s Casino is underrated and five why it’s just a Goodfellas rip-off.
10 Underrated: Incredible Performances
A lot of the criticisms of rehashing Goodfellas that get levied at Casino have to do with the fact that Scorsese cast Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci in another pair of gangster roles. But they work impeccably with Scorsese and they always do a great job of playing those characters, so why would he cast anyone else?
Sam Rothstein may not be as memorable a character as Travis Bickle or Rupert Pupkin, but De Niro puts just as much commitment into that performance as he would with any other. The same goes for Pesci, and Sharon Stone is unforgettable as Sam’s embattled wife.
9 Just a Goodfellas Rip-off: Voiceover Narration
Just like Goodfellas, Casino utilizes voiceover narration to tell its story. In fact, since the voiceover narration in Goodfellas was so well-received, Scorsese seems to have gone overboard in Casino. It’s basically non-stop throughout the whole movie whereas Goodfellas knew where to stop with the voiceover narration.
If part of the story could be told in a neat scene with actual dialogue between characters, then that’s the option that Scorsese went with. Voiceover narration was only used as a last resort, if a lot of information needed to be delivered. Casino doesn’t have that kind of restraint with its own narration.
8 Underrated: Strong character dynamic
While Goodfellas does a great job of building individual characters and giving them each their own personality, flaws, and quirks, Casino does a better job of creating a dynamic between its central duo. It’s a two-hander centered on the relationship shared by De Niro’s Sam and Pesci’s Nicky.
The way that these two characters deal with stress, anxiety, and obstacles in their rise and fall not only feels ingenuous to them; they also intertwine and bounce off each other in interesting ways. Power not only changes them as individuals; it changes their relationship with one another. It makes the movie feel focused, despite being three hours long.
7 Just a Goodfellas rip-off: A bunch of the same artists on the soundtrack
One of the hallmarks of Martin Scorsese’s filmmaking style is his use of pop music. He uses music to set the mood and tone of his work perfectly, making it one of the traits that makes him such a great filmmaker and it’s a trait shared by Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, and the Coen Brothers.
Since the soundtrack for Casino shares a lot of the same artists with the soundtrack for Goodfellas – including Tony Bennett, Muddy Waters, Cream, and Dean Martin – the former creates the same mood as the latter. As a result, it can’t help but feel like a rehash of it.
6 Underrated: Mature artistic vision
As great as Goodfellas is, a lot of it is just characters bickering. Its structure is all over the place, which is intentional in a bid to accurately depict the lifestyle of a mobster, but ultimately results in a movie that’s a little messy. Casino is a longer movie, but it feels tighter and more deliberate than Goodfellas.
Scorsese may have been retreading familiar ground when he made Casino, but that just gave him to opportunity to learn from Goodfellas’ shortcomings and build on his initial thesis. As a result, he came back with a movie that was more creatively mature.
5 Just a Goodfellas rip-off: Excessive graphic violence
Goodfellas and Casino are both violent movies, but the latter’s violence seems like it’s so graphic and intense that it’s trying desperately to top the former’s use of violence. Scenes in Goodfellas like Tommy unexpectedly getting whacked or Henry beating up Karen’s neighbor with his revolver have real impact, because they’re graphic, but not excessively graphic, and they’re used to expand on the characters’ darkness or advance the plot.
In Casino, however, gut-wrenching scenes like the guy’s head getting squeezed into a vice just seem to be trying too hard to be as memorable as the violent moments from Goodfellas.
4 Underrated: The best cinematic portrayal of Las Vegas
As a glitzy town filled with drugs, gambling, and strippers, plenty of movies have visited Las Vegas. The best ones are the ones that show its good side as a great place for a weekend of partying and a dark side full of seedy criminals and depressed people. Most movies either show the former (i.e. The Hangover) or the latter (i.e. Leaving Las Vegas).
What makes Casino the greatest on-screen portrayal of Las Vegas is its deft balance of these two sides. Some gamblers will be having fun at a casino, then they’ll suddenly have their head in a vice. It walks that fine line.
3 Just a Goodfellas rip-off: Nicholas Pileggi’s informative writing style
Goodfellas and Casino might seem so similar because they were both based on true-crime novels by the same author: Nicholas Pileggi. Pileggi collaborated with Martin Scorsese on the screenplays for both movies. Each script has an informative writing style, sort of the screenwriting equivalent of a non-fiction book.
It’s not a bad thing for a writing duo to have a distinctive style. Every script by the Coen Brothers shares the same writing style, but it never feels like they’re rehashing their own work because they tackle different subjects with their style. However, when Pileggi and Scorsese got back together, it was to tackle the same subject matter, resulting in a very similar movie.
2 Underrated: Closure for every character
In Goodfellas, we only get closure for the Henry Hill character. This is partly due to the true story it’s based on, which ended with Henry ratting out all his friends and disappearing into witness protection. But after all the characters we’ve been following get convicted and go to jail, that’s the last we see of them.
At the end of Casino, we see how every main character’s arc wraps up, even if it does end with two of them dying. Nicky gets buried alive in the desert, Ginger dies of an overdose, and Sam lives out his cushy life as a gambler.
1 Just a Goodfellas rip-off: It’s about a gangster’s rise and fall
Martin Scorsese has made a bunch of movies about organized crime, but no two have the same premise except for Goodfellas and Casino. Mean Streets was about the relationship between a guy and his cousin. The Departed was a cat-and-mouse thriller. Gangs of New York was more about the birth of America than it was about the mob.
Goodfellas is the true-to-life tale of one gangster’s rise to power and subsequent fall from grace. Casino is another true-to-life rise-and-fall story. As a result of having a similar premise, the two movies also have similar themes, similar characters, and similar plot points.