With their flashy, high-tech decor, games of chance and live entertainment, casinos are designed to be places where champagne glasses clink and locals and tourists mingle in a lively buzz of excitement. They are also where people try their luck at games of skill such as blackjack, poker and slot machines or simply put the fates of numbers like roulette in their hands.
Casinos are liminal spaces. They are situated in a rough blur between Victorianism and Modernism, in which big business is antiseptically displacing not just organized crime but also the frontiers of the city streets, the foibles of street life and the interplay between mobster and union.
Something about gambling encourages cheating, stealing and scamming, so casinos spend a great deal of time, effort and money on security. Dealers have to be heavily focused on their own game to spot blatant manipulation of cards and dice, but pit bosses and table managers have an eye on the whole table, making sure nobody is stealing chips from other players or changing the direction of their betting patterns.
A lot of the movie’s energy comes from the cast of characters, including Robert De Niro as Sam “Ace” Rothstein and Sharon Stone as Nicky, a beautiful hustler. James Woods and Vinny Vella are both funny in small roles as low-life con men and crooks respectively, but it is Stone who carries the film with her inimitable charisma. She oozes sex appeal, and it is her unerring ability to capture the camera’s gaze that lingers after the credits roll.