Scorsese’s Casino (1995) and the Joe Pesci School of Leadership

I recently watched Martin Scorsese’s Casino (1995), which is an excellent epic crime drama. It is about the rise and fall of a casino executive, and his dealings with the Italian mob. The story is interesting, the acting is great, and the movie is furthermore a visual spectacle. I do not want to spoil anything, but Sharon Stone playing a bipolar whore is astounding. You will not get to see anything comparable to this in Western movies nowadays.

Casino is a very serious movie that takes a dark turn already in the opening sequence. Probably in an attempt to not overly depress the viewer there is a crass character, Nicky Santoro, which is played by Joe Pesci. This character seems to primarily have the purpose of providing comic relief. I wonder, though, if some of his racial epithets (hebe, Jewish fuck, fucking Jew, Jew-prick, sand niggers, etc.) would survive a rerelease of this movie in the current year. If you watch it on a streaming service, there is a non-zero chance that some edits will have been made in order to not offend “modern audiences”.

Joe Pesci has played the hot-headed mobster in Casino as well as in Goodfellas, and some other movies. Interestingly, he is quite short. The combination of his characters engaging in excessive violence, showing extremely low impulse control, and having quite a foul moth is quite remarkable. In real life, this combination would not exist. I have found, however, that some people misinterpret characters like this and take cues from them. Leadership in the real world, however, does not mean that you run around like a madman or that you can afford to have people cower in fear whenever you show up. You need their support. You will not be accepted as a leader, however, if you behave in an erratic way as people need to be able to look up to you and trust that you will make good decisions. Your decisions will affect them and if you cannot do it, then people will go elsewhere. This happens in sports, organized crime, and business alike.

In reality, a hothead will get his shit pushed in, literally or figuratively. Any organization that does not do this will not be able to amount to much. It is absolutely inconceivable that someone who randomly kills a stranger in a bar, like Pesci’s character in Casino, would be the mob boss of an entire city. What would his power and authority be built on? You can watch this scene below.

You need to be able to trust your boss, no matter your line of work. If you cannot trust that he will objectively assess a problem and instead lash out against the messenger, then his entire basis of decision making will sooner or later collapse. Anybody who sees such behavior this will simply leave. In business, I have witnessed a few quite remarkable cases. One of the more egregious one is about a woman who was hired as a senior manager. She was a token female hire and knew shockingly little about her domain. Within three or four months, all her direct reports had resigned. This was a really messed up situation because the entire layer of managers under her had disappeared. I don’t know what happened to her because she has not updated her LinkedIn profile in quite a while. I do know that a few people were hastily promoted to manager, and that this was also a bit messy. I have also seen cases where guys got promoted due to nepotism, which also led to people leaving. Granted, this happened during the Covid-fuelled bubble in tech, but even today it is not the case that there are no jobs out there. You will not be able to keep your best employees if they think their manager is incompetent, hot-headed, or erratic in his or her decision making.

Joe Pesci’s character in Casino can only exist in a movie. In the real life, such people would have a really hard time making it past the entry level. In fact, they likely would not even be able to get an entry-level gig. I have been asking myself whether the inclusion of unrealistic characters like Nicky Santoro could realistically be considered a flaw of Casino and other epic crime movies, but I think that three hours of dreariness would be a really tough sell. You need something to lighten the mood. Without Pesci’s character, Casino may only have been possible as a 90-minute movie. Instead, it is about twice as long, and ultimately I think the movie benefits from it. In the real world, though, you probably want to neither emulate such antics, nor work for someone who exhibits them.

13 thoughts on “Scorsese’s Casino (1995) and the Joe Pesci School of Leadership

  1. I haven’t watched this movie in so long. I just remembered there was a scene where Joe Pesci’s character is making out with some chick in a car and almost immediately shoves her head down on his cock. Have you ever seen The Sopranos, or would you consider watching some of it. I was probably 15 or so when I saw the first season, so I can’t remember much about it.

    1. In this particular scene in Casino he does not even make out with that showgirl, and she goes down on him without any need for further guidance. I have watched The Sopranos in its entirety and really liked it, but I was also a much less critical viewer back then, so I am not sure I would recommend it as it may not be as good as I remember it. After all, unlike with a movie, the time commitment is much, much higher. I just looked it up: It takes 86 hours to watch this TV show.

  2. I think the inclusion of Pesci’s character was to tap into the same success he had with a similar persona in Goodfellas, mainly. Where he, unlike in Casino, was served his just desserts, hard.

    By the way, apparently dating from the early days of widespread internet (late 90’s, early 2000’s), there are audios floating around of prank calls with a collection of Pesci’s most iconic lines from Casino. I used to believe that nobody would be stupid enough to fall for them and that the movie (and the actor’s popularity) was too recent for it to be realistic. These days, I think there are a myriad of normies who would readily believe Nicky Santoro was mistakenly cursing some Jew motherf*cker.

  3. Aaron, which is your favorite of the Scorsese gangster trilogy? Goodfellas, Casino, or The Irishman?

    Too tough to choose for me. They are all great in their own right. But if I were forced to, it would be Goodfellas.

    1. Incidentally, I watched Goodfellas on the weekend and noticed significant parallels to Casino, but party this can be explained by the subject matter. Still, there are other reasons for a crime operation to unravel than drugs or women messing things up, or Joe Pesci’s character being a loose cannon. I intend to rewatch The Irishman soon. I rank Goodfellas above Casino. Both are very good and well worth watching. The Irishman is probably third.

    2. One of the things I love about Scorsese is his ability to time travel. 1950s, 60s, 70s. BAM, you’re there. The little intricacies he puts into it. The music. His movies are great, except the last one lol.

    3. Scorsese has had a few more stinkers, but probably none even remotely as bad as Killers of the Flower Moon.

    4. Yeah, I wasn’t a big fan of The King of Comedy. My friend starts debates about this all of the time haha. Wasn’t my cup of tea.

    5. I have watched part of The Irishman yesterday. This movie is nowhere near as good as Casino or Goodfellas. The story is much more modest in scope and not as engaging. It is also odd to see a bunch of geriatric guys with “de-aged” faces due to CGI act as young men. The CGI itself is not at all convincing either. I had to look up how old the younger versions of DeNiro’s character are supposed to be. The ages are, 24, 30, 36, 41, 50, 65, and 83, according to the first source I found. He never looks younger than in his mid-50s, and he simply moves and walks like a decrepit old man.

      The Irishman is far better than most movies released in the last few years, and it is still worth watching. It is not one of the absolute best of the epic-crime genre, though.

    6. Yeah, I know. This movie should have been made many years ago. I’m still glad they pulled it together one last time though. It was Scorsese’s swan song. I waited like 8 years for it. The first time he worked with Pacino actually. Also it was deeper than the other two films. And Pescie showed his range by not playing a hot head. And, as you mentioned , way better than the bulk of recent movies. But I don’t think that “The Irishman” killed Hoffa. I think he knows who did it, and might have been at the scene. We may never know.

    7. I just finished watching The Irishman — for the third time, if I recall correctly. It is a very good movie, and I like that the story focuses in-depth on one character. The de-aging effecting, however, is not at all convincing and drags the movie down. I wonder how much the long ending sequence was a way for Scorsese to also say goodbye to many of his long-time collaborators. He may have thought that this could very well be the last movie of his career. Just as Frank Sheeran sees his criminal conspirators getting older and eventually die one after the other, so has Scorsese seen his frequent collaborators age over decades, and for him as well as them, death is now waiting around the corner. Well, he managed to shit out Killers of the Flower Moon afterwards, leaving a stain on his legacy, but we have talked about that movie already.

    8. Yes, 100 percent agree. I remember we discussed how the aging/dying of the gangsters reflected Scorsese’s own self reflection and how he viewed his legacy. In my view, Franks relationship with his daughter is central to the plot. As well as her relationship with Jimmy Hoffa. Scorsese struggling with weather his movies did good or I’ll for society.

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