Sharon Stone’s Ginger Rogers says in Martin Scorsese’s Casino – “I told you I was hot tonight”. She meant it. In more ways that one. The actress has arguably never been better.
It has been nearly 25 years since Martin Scorsese’s Casino reached cinemas. At the time critics were fairly lukewarm to it, many expressing dissatisfaction with the story, its characters, the glossy depiction of Vegas and its three hour run time. The consensus, when you read between the lines, is that Casino is not Goodfellas. But there were those who found plenty to appreciate in 1995, and there are even more who look at this mafia-inspired crime-drama now as one of its director’s most impressive works.
Yet, no matter what critics think of Casino – then or now – few would disagree that Sharon Stone’s depiction of a drug-addicted sin city muse is one of her finest screen performances. Like Scorsese’s dazzling look at the spectacle that is Las Vegas, almost fetishising the neon lights, card dealers and slot machines, this translates similarly to his staging of Stone’s Ginger McKenna, framed to wallow in both the beauty and ugliness of her multi-toned hustler.
There’s an element of nostalgia in looking back at Casino with rose-tinted glasses. Recalling a Vegas now long-gone; the smaller venues run out of town by the big boys and the best online slots games and internet poker tournaments changing the landscape of the clientele, Scorsese’s film has aged well as a time capsule of an equally glorious and dark era in Vegas’ history.
Ginger McKenna embodies that perfectly. In her relentless pursuit of winning (be that riches, lifestyle, reputation) she’s increasingly susceptible to losing. And like the unpredictable nature of gambling, she takes chances that see her both fly and fall; the glamour juxtaposed with the grim reality of her paranoid narcissism.
Anthony Morris wrote on SBS.com that Casino was “the pinnacle of Scorsese’s mob movies” because, in part, it featured possibly the director’s greatest ever female character. He praised Nicholas Pileggi’s creation of the character but said both writer and director were in debt to Stone’s grand screen presence. He called the performance one that has “a rare combination of beauty queen looks and a been-around-the-block attitude that could crack rocks”.
It’s little wonder Stone received a Best Actress nomination for a role that, at the time of release, Roger Ebert called her “best”. Stone recalls the film arriving at a point in her career when everything just clicked for her, not least the inspirational opportunity to work with Robert De Niro and Scorsese. She told The Guardian that watching the film reminds her that she’s not “deluding” herself and that “I really can do it”.
She says, “I got up to bat with my dream people, the one actor that all my career I strived to work with, that was the apex for me… and then Marty… And then to get the pat on your back from your peers [Oscar nomination] is always pretty great. You know, you don’t get a lot of that.”
Entertainment Weekly, one of those critical of the film, still found Stone’s work worthy of compliment, saying she “does wonders with her thinly conceived role; her rage and desperation are palpable.” Certainly, outside of the film’s violence, it is Ginger’s angry eruptions that often stand out, in particular during the unforgettable scene in which she trashes her own driveway and uses a pair of hapless cops as a shield to get belongings from her home.
It wasn’t until Casino that Hollywood really took Sharon Stone seriously. Until then she was a B-movie darling or A-film totty willing to take her clothes off on camera. She turned heads for her fierceness in Basic Instinct but it was largely her exploits in the bedroom (and the police interrogation room) that won her fans. Scorsese found a performance in her that showcased startling efficiency navigating the light and dark shades of a woman living life in the fast lane without a brake.