Todd Russell’s review published on Letterboxd:
Robert De Niro as pro gambler Sam "Ace" Rothstein, Joe Pesci as the mob thug heavy Nicky Santoro that protects Rothstein and Sharon Stone as Ginger, Rothstein's sexy love interest (and Stone looks stunning in this film) and working girl.
This is Martin Scorsese's riveting drama of the rise and fall of an old Mafia-run Las Vegas casino fictionally named The Tangiers. The setting is in downtown Vegas and those familiar with the landmarks will recognize Frontier Street and other real casinos in the backdrop. This movie really makes you feel like you are back in the 1970s. The design, wardrobe and sets are fantastic. Oh, and the soundtrack is awesome too, "Gimme Shelter" by The Rolling Stones with the high-pitched screams of Merry Clayton:
"Rape! Murder! It's just a shot away!"
Brilliant setup for the atmosphere.
Scorsese starts with Rothstein getting blown up by a car bomb and then De Niro as narrator takes us back in time to tell how it all happened. Nothing like immediately drawing our interest and wondering: did he die or was he horribly disfigured? But that is just the bait to whet our visual appetite. This is a but a very tiny part of the story that will be answered later.
Flashback to seeing how Rothstein is given the job of running The Tangiers, how he meets Ginger and how the mafia launders money through the casino. Although there are some really violent parts in the movie, Scorsese artfully frames it all, showing his masterful command of the screen and story unfolding.
The wife and I are recreational gamblers so this movie was definitely a fascinating look at how casinos operate as well as a very engaging story. Scorsese's movies tend to be on the longer side and this one is no exception, but it moves pretty well despite the length.
I really enjoyed how the casino dealt with cheaters and scammers, as well as Rothstein's information about how to optimize casino operations. There are many different dimensions and details to this movie that have it escape the tropes of just being a mobster in Vegas story, it has so much greater depths with living, complex characters and incredible acting performances. Don Rickles plays the casino manager in a supporting role and, no, he's not the funny Rickles from Mchale's Navy.
By the time the movie returns to the present day, we felt like we went through a wild, rocky adventure story. There are multiple violent scenes, but one in particular toward the end that is visceral and difficult to watch. You want to see a movie about money, power, greed and violence, this is a bullseye.
I have watched and rewatched this movie at least a half-dozen times and will keep watching it. To me it a work of great art and entertainment. I took away a half star because there is one part I felt was a bit too unrealistic, but won't spoil here. That to me is the only blemish on this otherwise perfect story. Highly recommended.