Casino ★★★★

The lust for excess that was born in Mean Streets and bloomed in GoodFellas reaches full maturity here, reflected in every gaudy costume and shiny trinket over which the camera lingers for slightly longer than is necessary. A love letter to a Las Vegas run by good old-fashioned murderous mobsters instead of soulless (but equally nefarious) entertainment corporations, Casino celebrates ambition and mourns the second death of the wild west. In this uniquely American tale, the idea of immigrants from the east seeking success in the west must have appealed to Scorsese, a New Yorker who’s never felt comfortable as a Hollywood player. Those deep-rooted fears of failure are thoroughly worked out here, and it’s comforting to see Marty allow his protagonist to survive doing the only thing he knows, even if it’s on a smaller scale than he might prefer.

To sustain a three-hour epic with this kind of energy is remarkable in mainstream Hollywood; few directors could manage it, and even Scorsese couldn’t do it without Thelma Schoonmaker at his side. As delirious as Casino is, though, it suffers in the unavoidable comparison to GoodFellas Scorsese invites - it’s nowhere near as much fun as its predecessor, and while Ace Rothstein’s rise is almost as vertiginous as Henry Hill’s, his fall is a protracted and less dramatic experience, over-punctuated by extended bouts of Sharon Stone shrieking. The religious metaphors are still fun to spot though: Stone’s Ginger, for example, is the Eve to Ace’s Adam (with James Woods' sleazy pimp as the serpent), ensuring the inevitable fall of man teased in the title sequence. Casino’s moral is a familiar one too - “That’s that,” laments Rothstein after warning that greed and ambition are no guarantees for happiness - but it's unusual for Scorsese's protagonists to be so self-aware. Could it be that they’re finally learning? (Spoiler: No.)

Here's my complete rundown and ranking of every Martin Scorsese film