If you like to know where you are with a director, Casino is the movie for you. Placing The Age Of Innocence and Cape Fear to one side for a moment, here we have Scorsese returning to what he knows best, and to the people he loves.
Co-written with GoodFellas screenwriter Nicholas Pileggi, and starring the usual suspects in the form of Bobby De Niro and Joe Pesci, you also have the warm reassurance of the presence of many of GoodFellas' character actors, grizzled of visage and twitchy of trigger-finger, Scorsese's mum doing a cameo, Elaine and Saul Bass producing the opening credits, and many recognisable directorial flourishes. Even better for Scorsese fans, within 15 minutes Joe Pesci is stamping on some schmuck's head in a bar, screaming obscenities as a bewildered Robert De Niro looks on with that great quizzical expression of his.
GoodFellas Part II? Well, sort of. Scorsese insists this isn't a mob film, and you can see his point. It tells the - slightly embellished - true story of Sam "Ace" Rothstein (De Niro), a brilliant Mid-West gambler recruited by the wiseguys to run their casino in Vegas, which he proceeds to do with ruthless efficiency. It all sours when his old buddy Nicky Santoro (Pesci in fantastic psycho mode) comes to town and starts throwing his weight around at more or less the same time as Ace makes the one big reckless gamble of his life: persuading sex-bomb hustler Ginger McKenna (Stone) to marry him. This head-strong twosome just add too many maybes into the comfortable set-up, and slowly the easy money-making machine starts to malfunction. Then the baseball bats come out.
This is De Niro's finest hour certainly since GoodFellas and maybe since The King Of Comedy. Onscreen for nearly the whole three-hour running time, he is chillingly logical about his life at first, slowly descending into panic, frustration and violence as things go wrong. He plays it perfectly from start to finish, as indeed do the entire cast. Sharon Stone is a revelation, Pesci is his usual mesmerising self, and if at times the story drags - with too much voiceover and quasi-documentary - the three of them refuse to let go of your nether regions for a second.
If the violence is even more stomach churning than in GoodFellas (check out Pesci's creative use of a vice) and if Scorsese isn't making huge strides in terms of his filmmaking lexicon, this is still a powerful, disturbing and entirely fascinating examination of a specific time and place, and of the nature of the deals we do - with our employers, with our friends, with our lovers.