Stars: Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci, Sharon Stone, Don Rickles, James Woods. Directed by Martin Scorsese. Rated R for violence, profanity, adult situations.

Although it doesn't paint the cohesive picture of organized crime that his "Goodfellas" did, director Martin Scorsese's "Casino" is a great mobster flick in its own right. The team of Scorsese and actors Robert De Niro and Joe Pesci works as well the third time around as it did the first ("Raging Bull"). The result is a gritty, relentless crime drama that is both informative and entertaining.

Ace (De Niro), the film's central character and narrator, is a Jewish mobster who has an uncanny ability to make loads of money for his Italian bosses. Handpicked to run the Tangiers casino in Vegas, Ace settles in to lead a life legally doing what he use to do illegally. He even meets a flashy lady (Sharon Stone) who stirs his emotions and consents to marry him. Things would be going just perfectly if it weren't for a couple flies in the ointment: Joe Pesci and James Woods.

Pesci plays a long-time associate of Ace's who breezes into Las Vegas and becomes its new crime lord. When the media gets wind of the connection between the two, things become very tough for Ace. Woods plays Stone's former flame; one that she can't seem to give up on entirely and who has the nasty habit of coming around looking for handouts. Making matters worse, Ace fires an incompetent blackjack dealer who has relations in the government. The heat that comes down from this judgment error leaves few standing.

De Niro and Pesci do Oscar-caliber work in "Casino", a film based on a true story. Meanwhile, Sharon Stone delivers the best performance of her career, while Don Rickles shines in a small part as Ace's second-in-command. If Scorsese gets passed up by the Academy for a directing nomination, it will be nothing short of a travesty. The man is, for my money, the most talented artisan working in film today. Forget about the glossy thriller "Cape Fear" and the namby-pamby "Age of Innocence", "Casino" is the kind of film Scorsese does best. Be thankful this New York director is still up to his old tricks.

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