The way the narration and live dialogue complete each other. Example:
Ace (in narration): “But Andy also took orders. And when he was told to give a pension fund to Philip Green—”
In fact, this proposal scene is so damn heartbreaking. Ace wants what he wants, which is more. Ginger wants what she wants, which is independence. She tells him she doesn’t love him. But he keeps pushing. She eventually asks about money, and he tells her repeatedly that no matter what happens, she’ll be set for life. This is a marriage built on a mutual understanding of marital prostitution. He’s in it for the ego, she’s in it for the money. They both spell it out, clear as day. No wonder they fall down.
There is an economy to screenwriting that I am fascinated by. It’s a very specific sort of economy, that of using just a few relatable words to underline a point. I know it sounds simple, but writing the way people actually speak is incredibly difficult. You have to remove all the “movie-ness” from it, all the artifice and pretension. My point is, the way Pesci says, “I wanna go in a restaurant, which happens to be in the casino, to get one of those sandwiches I like,” makes his character, who is a maniacal psychopath, immediately relatable. He’s insane, but he also likes “those sandwiches” in a casino restaurant. We all have a place where we get “those sandwiches,” and if we were banned from going to that place, we’d probably be pissed too. Again, this may seem overly simple, but in fact, this is screenwriting at its finest.
Kevin Pollak has a great story about the blueberry scene. Ace and Philip Green were supposed to be arguing about the firing of Don (John Bloom), but during shooting, De Niro noticed that his prop muffin had considerably less blueberries than Pollak’s prop muffin, so De Niro started riffing on it. Pollak genuinely had no idea De Niro was going to start talking about blueberries. Therefore, Pollak’s confusion — “What are you talking about?” — is in fact Kevin Pollak’s own confusion, not his character’s.
I first saw Casino in early 1996, which was more or less pre-internet (there was dial-up, and very few websites dedicated to movies). I mention that because my friend Chris and I spent hours trying to determine why Ace wasn’t wearing his pants in this scene. We could not figure it out. Chris was steadfast in his theory that Ace was jerking off under his desk (we were 10 years old — heh), I thought it was something much more practical. When the special edition DVD was released years later, we finally got our answer: real life casino gangster, Frank Rosenthal (who Ace is based on), would sit pantless in his office, as to preserve the crease in his immaculate pants. That’s it. It’s all about vanity.
This could be my favorite moment of Pesci’s in the entire film. Nicky is walking out of court, presumably after being asked about one of the two dozen murders he’s been implicated in. Nicky is obviously frustrated and rushed, but he looks off-camera and tells a reporter, “Watch yourself, you’ll get runned over there.” And it’s genuine. He’s not bullying the reporter, he’s genuinely telling him to be careful not to walk in the street. What psychopath does that? What psychopath robs a home but turns family photos around? What psychopath drops everything he’s doing to make his son pancakes at 6:30 every morning? Nicky Santoro, that’s who. What an absolutely fascinating film character.
The lovely woman to the left is Martin Scorsese’s mother, Catherine. Martin told the actor in the scene, Vinny Vella, to curse occasionally, as his character is so angry. What Martin didn’t do was warn his mother, who was a staunch Catholic in real life, that the actor was going to curse. So every time Vella curses, Catherine’s shocked reactions are genuine. What a priceless moment.
This scene also contains some sneaky character development for Ginger. It’s early in the morning, everyone is still in their bath robes, but Ginger is drinking booze (and rubbing her nose a little too aggressively). Hell, maybe she hasn’t even been to bed yet. It’s a great bit of subtle foreshadowing for her character.
And here’s the eventual blowout, which I’ve written about on this blog before. It’s an unnerving argument. So real and painful. Two brilliant actors fearlessly performing at the top of their game.
I used to be a newspaper beat reporter. I’ve interviewed dozens of cops and gone on several ride-alongs. I always asked every cop I interviewed the same question: “What are the calls you dread the most?” And every single one of them, without fail or hesitation, said domestic disturbance calls were the worst. For one, you have no idea what you’re walking into. You’re entering someone’s personal space as they are deep in the throes of a passionate argument. But moreover, every cop hated the fact that 9 times out of 10, when those domestic disturbance cases went to court, the lover who was being abused was right back to standing by their abuser’s side. This scene reminds me of that. Ginger is a horribly damaged woman who is in need of serious help. But instead of firmly setting a boundary, Ace lets her back in. This is one of the most realistic scenes in the film, and certainly one of the saddest.
Good time to talk about Sharon Stone. Stone was nominated for the Best Actress Oscar for her work as Ginger. She had some strong competition in Susan Sarandon (who won for Dead Man Walking), and Elisabeth Shue (for Leaving Las Vegas). I still can’t decide between Stone and Shue, but I suppose I would’ve been least upset had Stone won. She deserved it so much.
Another scene I’ve written about before. The mighty falls, and the corporations take over.