Trust on the Way Down:
Comparing and Contrasting Goodfellas and Casino
Martin Scorsese is, perhaps, the most controversial figure in American cinema of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. The majority knows the filmmaker as a master of crime dramas, violent, spectacular, with black humor. Scorsese’s vast knowledge in the field of cinematography allows him to skillfully handle the context, giving a replica of several possible interpretations. Because of this, his films display certain depth and complexity, conveying valuable ideas to the viewers and addressing the key issues of human life. One of such issues, namely the problem of trust between people, is highlighted in the films Goodfellas (1990) and Casino (1995). The films teach the viewers a simple and yet a bitter lesson: one should not trust anyone fully, as nothing is reliable in this world, and even our own ideas can be false.
The stories depicted in both films revolve around the life in a criminal environment, the peculiarities of which Scorsese knows firsthand and which has become one of the central themes in the majority of the director’s works. Thus, the phrase that Henry Hill (Ray Liotta) says at the beginning of Goodfellas, “As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster” seems quite essential. The young man wanted to drive expensive cars, wear gorgeous suits and enjoy the overall fear and respect. Not only did gangster world enable him to receive a lot while devoting little effort, but also created for Henry a sense of belonging to some special community: “It was there that I knew that I belonged”. It was the feeling of being a part of a family that made him happy: “I could go anywhere. I could do anything. I knew everybody and everybody knew me.” This life fascinated the young man; moreover, he was sure that he knows all its rules and is able to act carefully and cautiously enough not to get in trouble.
However, it was the sense of belonging first that made Henry also feel the sense of betrayal later. Ignoring the advice of the wiser Paulie not to get involved with the drugs business, the young man gets into trouble. At some point, he becomes a threat simply because he knows a lot, and his mafia friends come to a conclusion that the security of their community is of utmost importance. Now it dis not matter if Henry was careful, devoted to the cause and loyal; he could not belong to the community anymore. To survive, he betrayed those who betrayed him. This makes him to choose a new way, the slow and hard way of a simple human, and realize that there is no way back.
Just like Goodfellas, Casino is a film about the backstage of the criminal world. The story takes place in Las Vegas, which has never gone out of neon lights and always pours champagne, love, and money. The film begins with Sam’s (Robert De Niro) words ‘When you love someone, you've got to trust them. There's no other way. You've got to give them the key to everything that's yours. Otherwise, what's the point? And for a while, I believed, that's the kind of love I had.’ Just like the Goodfellas main character, Sam saw love and loyalty in people who surrounded him at the beginning of the story.
Initially, Sam’s friend Nicky is full of respect for him. However, Nick has a short temper and uses his gun as a solution to any situation. Nick ignores all advices to behave unobtrusively and attracts police attention, jeopardizing Sam’s achievements. At first, Nick remains faithful to his friend, helping him to regain his wife and daughter, and refusing to kill his friend in one of the scenes. Later, Nicky’s empowerment, coupled with the acquisition of criminal authority and social significance in Las Vegas lead to a betrayal. Ceasing to feel the boundaries of the permitted, he eventually blows up Sam’s car.
All the characters in the Casino somehow worked their way up, and their way down. Sam 'Ace' Rothstein is one of the few managed to survive after cleaning of rows in the Mafia.
Betrayed by the woman he loved and his friend, by the end of the film Sam loses almost everything he gained and returns to where he started.
The outline of Goodfellas was the desire of Henry to get into the world of gangsters, because the surrounding reality dictates that it is the simplest way. Similarly, Sam in Casino is trying to find a painless way to leave this world, because at some point irrationality of interiors and visitors’ behavior in gambling houses becomes obvious to him. In both films Scorsese focuses on the reflection of the protagonist’s feelings. However, in Casino, in contrast to the Goodfellas, director more actively uses voiceover to emphasize the character's alienation, as if telling about the events that he had experienced himself.
These Scorsese’s films have revealed the peculiarities of the world of Mafia and gangsters. They caused very strong emotions in the audience, and it is unlikely that something will ever address the theme so effectively as these films.
As seen in the two works, the classic character of Martin Scorsese is a controversial man with a complex personality, oscillating between the conditions of the external world and the internal ideas, often appearing driven to a situation that seems to be unsolvable. Rebellious and restless, he is constantly in struggle with himself, his vices, passions, and finally with his own conscience. The character betrays, revenges, sins, tries to make amends, tries to assert himself and solves his internal conflicts.
Scorsese turns to the questions of how to find one’s place in life and where to find it at all. He shows that there are worlds that, despite their attraction, may be hostile and unreliable for their members. The director shows that if someone breaks the rules, they are left alone with their problems. However, it is betrayal and solitude that makes characters become a stronger personality in both films.