In “Casino,” Martin Scorsese’s classic tale of Las Vegas crime and punishment, luck is a figment of the losing man’s imagination. And “Ace” Rothstein (Robert DeNiro) is no loser. He is a calculating, fastidious anomaly on the Strip — a man who would compute wind velocity before betting on a field goal and study the peculiarities of a college basketball court before wagering on a game. According to Mafia underboss and childhood comrade Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci), “Ace bets like a fuckin’ brain surgeon.” In short, the man doesn’t take risks.
A bookie in the old neighborhood, Ace fed enough information to the bosses that they rewarded him by making him master of his own neon castle. As long as a suitcase loaded with greenbacks arrives in the backroom of a grocery shop in Kansas City every month, Ace can run his casino his own way. But his way is not Nicky’s way and someone has to fold.
When Nicky joins his childhood cohort in Sin City, Ace is dragged back to the streets. Back home, Nicky and Ace were small-time gamblers with small-time goals. But in Las Vegas each man lives by his own mirage and his own image. The Tangiers casino offers Ace the opportunity to sell dreams for cash. With complimentary champagne and promises of fortune, he seduces and cleans out those who rely on luck. Washed clean of his old bookie persona, Ace is compensated for his hustling with a sprawling mansion, an enviable wardrobe, and a trophy wife. “Running a casino is like robbing a bank with no cops around,” he says. “For guys like me, Las Vegas washes away your sins. It’s like a morality car wash.”
Ace is meticulous and marvelous — a striking antithesis to Nicky, who boasts, bullies, and blunders his way through Ace’s casino. A natural-born strong arm, Nicky makes it difficult for Ace to keep a low profile. Under glaring florescent lights, differences can no longer be reconciled. Ace makes his money by taking calculated risks, while Nicky does it the old fashioned way — with a bat.
In the end, greed is the culprit — the one insurmountable force that dominates Las Vegas and brings its inhabitants to their knees. Greed — for power, influence, and cold hard cash — sabotages Ace and Nicky. And proves that no one stays at the top forever.
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