Casino, at last, hits the jackpot in this eye-popping, immersive 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray release from Universal. This criminally underrated Martin Scorsese drama provides a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at the power brokers, mobsters, hookers, and pimps who ran Las Vegas in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and it’s filled with all the glitz, greed, sex, and violence the screen can hold. Casino is an ambitious, magnificent epic that stands as one of Scorsese’s best films, and the revelatory, reference-quality HDR10 transfer and DTS:X audio on this 4K UHD disc bring all the glamour and sleaze to life like never before. Must Own.
Casino is often referred to as a pale imitation of and inferior stepsister to GoodFellas, and while the two films do share many of the same artistic and thematic elements, such an estimation is grossly unfair. Without a doubt, few mob films, if any, can top GoodFellas, and let's be real, Casino doesn't. But it comes damn close. Director Martin Scorsese's epic chronicle of a Las Vegas gambling establishment, its underworld ties, and how the heady mix of money, power, and sex destroys the lives of a trio of shady characters captivates from the opening frames and keeps us largely riveted over the course of its hefty three-hour running time. Like GoodFellas, Casino is distinguished by Scorsese's inimitable artistry, attention to detail, breathtaking visuals, and peerless grasp of Hollywood moviemaking, as well as top-notch performances from Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci. The similarities, though, end there. Casino stands on its own, and the way it transports us to and completely immerses us in a glamorous yet tawdry world of outrageous excess and shocking violence makes it one of Scorsese's best movies.
Just as GoodFellas is a gangster tutorial, Casino is a casino tutorial, and some of the movie's most fascinating moments come during its semi-documentary account of the inner workings of these massive gambling meccas, the corruption that takes place behind the scenes and in faraway locales, and the sleazy, mob-like rules of Vegas society. The film is at once poetic and garish, romantic and repulsive, subtle and audacious. In short, it's typical - or should I say quintessential - Scorsese, and like all the director's films, you just buckle up and enjoy the ride. Of course, when Marty ramps up the violence, it's tough not to squirm - a scene in which Pesci's character puts a guy's head in a vice and cranks up the tension is especially grisly - but when Scorsese ventures into the world of organized crime, he goes all in. And like his characters, he doesn't pull any punches.
Often regarded as the final installment in a Mafia trilogy that includes Mean Streets and GoodFellas, Casino covers a 10-year period as it charts the exploits of Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), manager of the casino at the fictional Tangiers Hotel in Las Vegas, and his pint-sized gangster partner, Nicky Santoro (Pesci), who cleans up all the messes while making more than a few of his own. Into the mix walks Ginger McKenna (Sharon Stone), a drop-dead gorgeous hooker who's beholden both professionally and emotionally to her slimy pimp Lester Diamond (James Woods). Sam becomes obsessed with Ginger and aggressively pursues her. She tells him she doesn't love him, but like any rich egomaniac, Sam believes he can buy Ginger's affection. Their marriage is a study in distrust, lies, jealousy, betrayal, acrimony, and over-the-top histrionics peppered with heaping helpings of alcohol and cocaine. Meanwhile, Nicky gets too big for his britches, too, indulging his tough-guy persona to the nth degree. Acting on impulse and fueled by the stimuli of a city that runs on power, greed, loyalty, sexual favors, bribes, and - oh yeah - gobs and gobs of cold hard cash, Sam, Ginger, and Nicky begin to flame out, and the resulting carnage is epic.
Casino may be short on plot, but it's long on atmosphere, character development, and blistering exchanges between an army of colorful characters. It runs a tad too long, but it's never, ever boring, thanks to Scorsese's elegant style, which is often more electric than all the neon lights on The Strip. With a master's hand, Scorsese weaves a hypnotic spell, capturing the true essence of Vegas - both its glossy, gaudy veneer and the rank corruption and putrid cesspool that lie just beneath it - all while developing complex, flawed characters who become at first engulfed and then devoured by their surroundings. Few filmmakers can juggle so many balls without eventually dropping any of them, but Scorsese can and does here. His attention to detail is staggering, and it lends the movie an authentic feel within a setting that’s built on artifice. That's a difficult dichotomy to produce, but somehow Scorsese pulls it off. The man truly is a filmmaking genius.
The screenplay by Scorsese and Nicholas Pileggi (they also wrote the GoodFellas script together), has all the snap, crackle, and pop we expect, and the performances are all stellar. While it’s true De Niro and especially Pesci seem to be reviving their GoodFellas characters, the addition of Stone as the fiery, sexy, and maddeningly mercurial Ginger really raises the film’s stakes. Stone sinks her incisors into the role; she’s wonderfully nuanced one minute and a raving maniac the next. The result is a fascinating, altogether captivating portrayal that justly earned her a Best Actress Oscar nomination (the only Oscar nod the movie received). Scorsese also sprinkles several legendary Vegas fixtures into his cast, including Don Rickles, Alan King, and Dick Smothers, and there are cameos from Frankie Avalon, Steve Allen, Jayne Meadows, and Jerry Vale. Even Scorsese’s mom, Catherine, crops up once again in what sadly would be her final appearance in one of her son’s films.
Every time I see Casino I like and appreciate it more. Though it never seems to quite get all the credit it deserves, it absolutely belongs in the canon of Scorsese masterworks. From the production design and costumes to the dazzling visuals, spot-on soundtrack, literate script, and superior performances, Casino has it all. If it seems a little excessive at times, that’s okay, because let’s face it, that’s Vegas, baby. Casino bets big and it delivers a huge payoff. How can anyone not love that?
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
Casino arrives on 4K UHD packaged in a standard case inside a sleeve. A Blu-ray version of the film and leaflet containing a code for the Movies Anywhere digital copy are tucked inside the front cover. Video codec is 2160p/HEVC H.265 and default audio is DTS:X. Once the disc is inserted into the player, the full-motion menu with music immediately pops up; no previews or promos precede it. For a full review of the Blu-ray transfers of Casino and a different take on the film itself, please check out our coverage of the 2008 Blu-ray release by clicking here.
Universal rolls a lucky seven over and over and over again with this utterly spectacular, incredibly film-like 2160p/HEVC H.265 transfer presented in HDR. Never have I seen such an impressive 4K UHD presentation of a catalog title. Not only is almost every frame jaw-droppingly gorgeous and bursting with brilliant color, no other Ultra High-Def movie - in my experience - more closely replicates the luxurious look and feel of good old-fashioned acetate film than Casino. At times, I felt as if I was watching this Martin Scorsese picture in an actual theater, so warm, balanced, and beautifully textured is the image. Film grain is present, which is a very good thing, but it's such an organic component of the picture, it rarely stands out on its own. I kept wondering as I watched this three-hour movie how such an astounding level of clarity could be obtained without producing distracting grain levels, but somehow that elusive symbiosis has been achieved and remains consistent throughout. Who needs any of the drugs and alcohol so ravenously consumed in Casino? I'm addicted to this transfer and my eyes can't wait to get lost in it once again.
Colors are absolutely brilliant. Talk about saturation! From primaries to pastels, all the hues assault the senses, but never look overly pushed. From De Niro's salmon jacket with pink shirt and tie (or yellow jacket with yellow shirt and tie or purple jacket with lavender shirt and tie...and almost every other shade of the rainbow) to a red velvet curtain to the green felt lining the gaming tables to the fluorescent red, green, and purple costumes adorning a group of Solid Gold-like disco dancers, all the colors are perfectly pitched and glorious to behold. (I'm not ashamed to say I would love to have De Niro's wardrobe from this film!) In addition, the textures of the fabrics and jewelry are marvelously detailed, intricate patterns are crisp and rock-solid, depth of field is palpable, flesh tones are spot-on, and close-ups are so razor-sharp you can pick out the individual pores on the bridge of De Niro's nose.
Black levels are rich and inky, Stone's white chinchilla fur pops off the screen, and shadow delineation is excellent. Reflections are crystal clear, too, especially those shot off of De Niro's sunglasses both in the desert and at poolside in a scene with Alan King. I could probably watch the whole movie reflected on those sunglasses and not be disappointed. Even the psychedelic Elaine and Saul Bass title sequence (see photo above) that features extreme close-ups of neon signs that purposely blur and bleed look spectacular.
The Blu-ray transfer also looks great (if a tad too bright), but it flaunts nowhere near the level of clarity, depth, warmth, contrast, and especially color intensity that burst from every frame of its 4K UHD counterpart. Watching bits and pieces of the Blu-ray only heightened my appreciation of the 4K UHD transfer (as if it wasn't already heightened enough!). It's truly reference-quality stuff for a 1990s film. It even eclipses many of the transfers for the newest digitally-shot 4K releases. If you've got a 4K player, you need this exceptional release in your collection. It's that simple.
I can't tell you how often I kept thinking as I watched this mesmerizing disc, "If only every catalog title could look as good as Casino in 4K..."
Casino boasts a complex audio track that often features three separate layers of sound competing for attention at any given time. There's the omnipresent background music covering an incredible array of styles from classical and jazz to rock and disco, voiceover narration, and the atmospherics of various Vegas scenes along with dialog delivered underneath the narration. That's a tall order for any track, but the DTS:X audio balances all the myriad elements with ease. Subtle surround effects are always audible, but the stereo separation across the front channels is more pronounced. Occasionally, Scorsese beefs up the intensity, most notably when cameras are clicking at the characters. Flashbulbs sound like small bombs going off and flapping shutters provide a surprising jolt. Sonic accents like the car explosion that opens the film, gunfire, fisticuffs, and a sledgehammer that performs a particularly grisly task are crisp enough to make you squirm, while subtleties such as footsteps, the dialing of a phone, and the clink of glasses and silverware are equally distinct. Bass frequencies are strong, but nicely integrated into the whole, and the music flaunts superior fidelity. Thankfully, the dialogue never gets lost and is always clear and easy to understand, even when ambient effects try to intrude, and no distortion creeps into the mix.
At times, I wished this track possessed a bit more oomph and a few more playful surround effects -- this track doesn't compete with the best DTS:X mixes in terms of overhead articulations -- but it always remains true to the film and never tries to one-up it...which is just as it should be. This is an expertly constructed track and this superior transfer beautifully honors it.
All the supplements from the 2008 Blu-ray release have been ported over to this 4K UHD release. For a complete review of all the extras, please see our coverage of the 2008 Blu-ray by clicking here.
Casino on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray is a revelation. With a reference-quality video transfer that mirrors the look of film better than anything else I’ve yet seen for a 1990s motion picture and upgraded DTS:X audio, this Martin Scorsese masterwork looks and sounds better than ever before. Maybe finally, this engrossing study of the gambling world and the crazy, self-destructive characters who inhabit it will get the degree of respect it has always deserved. Like a rich dessert, Casino fills you up with luscious visuals and an over-the-top tale bursting with money, sex, and violence galore. For some, it might be too much, but for others, like me, it’s cinema nirvana. And in 4K, it’s nothing less than sublime. Must Own.