Martin Scorsese’s revered exploration of Mafia involvement in the casino industry in the 1970s and 1980s has all the elements of a great movie, even if it never really gets there. Robert De Niro is terrific as Sam Rothstein, a mafia figure who gradually becomes an important figure in the casino trade, but the character is rather poorly developed: His motivations are difficult to pin down, we don’t really know what drives him to do the things he does, and there isn’t much for the audience to hang on to other than his being played by De Niro. The same goes for just about every character other than Sharon Stone’s Ginger and Joe Pesci’s Nicky Santoro, who are the most consistent characters not to mention the best performances in the movie, but they’re also extraordinarily unlikable. And that’s primarily the problem here – despite Scorsese’s typically strong direction and a crisp, entertaining pace that makes the three hour running time fly right by, there just aren’t any sympathetic characters to be found, which makes the whole thing rather unpleasant to sit through. So as a movie, it’s a success, but as a viewing experience, it’s held back from greatness thanks to a deeply unpleasant streak that never lets up.
Rating: ★★★★ (out of 5)