Martin Scorsese, 1995
Ace Rothstein (Robert de Niro) goes from the betting rooms to the big casinos.
Ace has a talent: he’s an exceptional bookie who’s never wrong. A lot of people make a lot of money thanks to him. Because of his talent he gets promoted as head of operations for the Tangier’s, which is one of the biggest Casino in Vegas.
Everything goes as planned until Nicky Santoro (Joe Pesci) comes to town and Ace falls in love with Ginger (Sharon Stone). Suddenly all the chips go away, quickly. Ace is trying his best but fails at keeping Ginger and Nicky under control. Things get messy. The business suffers. The bosses get nervous.
The little guy. He wouldn’t be fucking the Jew’s wife, would he?
Decisions are made. A few more holes in the desert are dug. The entire empire collapses. Only Ace survives miraculously. He goes back to being a bookie. At least he’s alive.
And that’s that.
Casino is about micro-management.
Ace is a very special person. He leaves nothing to chance. He makes all his predictions based on his intuitions built on solid information. He’s extremely rigorous, not to say obsessed to a level that only few people can reach – or bare. That’s what makes him unique. He’s better than others because he cares more. For instance he wants the exact same number of blueberries in each muffin. Even the Chef of the Tangier’s can’t believe this guy. Being over-demanding with himself and therefore with others is how he became successful. He’s so good he’s being given everything, his dream, a gambling paradise… The Tangier’s.
Back home they would have put me in jail for what I’m doing. Here they are giving me awards.
Ace is very ambitious. He never doubts his ability to drive a beast like the Tangier’s. And that’s maybe his weakness. He loves to decide, on his own. He believes his method is so great that he only trusts his way.
Listen to me very carefully. There are three ways of doing things around here: the right way, the wrong way, and the way that I do it.
It’s not as much about ego than it is about fear. Ace is fine being the puppet master in the background. He doesn’t need the spotlight. He just fears everything stops. And that makes him very rigid. He hates the possibility he could miss. He hates losing. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the reality of the Casino is everyone loses at some point. More than learning how to win more players know how to handle the loss. Ace should have known better.
The longer they play, the more they lose.
His rigidity also reflects in his inability to compose. As he goes up in the hierarchy he has to deal with more complex problems that are brought by political figures. His task as a manager becomes more complicated. He has to make friends. He has to make compromises with the locals, which he refuses. This is not going to help him at all. Talent is not enough in this world, you got to have friends too.
The biggest challenge Ace has to face is to handle Ginger and Nicky. They represent chaos for different reasons. Ginger is a prostitute that can’t really be trusted. And Nicky simply can’t be reasoned. For the first time in his life, Ace is confronted with two persons that represents what he fears most about life: the impossibility to control. Yet Ace is going to invest on her. She needs freedom. He’s going to try to make her live in a cage. That’s going to be a major mistake. He will try to tame Nicky but telling him what to do or not to do. Things will get even worse. This is how Ace will turn the guy who was supposed to be his bodyguard into his enemy.
The consequence is the machine is going crazy. The money keeps circulating but doesn’t land in the right pockets anymore. The machine needs to be reset. Individuals are only small pieces of this machine. Alone they are nothing. That means they can only be a part of a company’s success. But alone they can also prevent the machine from functioning properly. Individuals can be fully responsible for a company’s failure. Micro-managers such as Ace are great for small businesses. They represent a threat to big corporations. Because of them, everything can go down.
Today it looks like Disneyland.
The county commissionner kindly once reminds Ace that he’s just a guest. Like we all are in life. Ace didn’t listen. He tried to be bigger than life to the point he completely lost it. He even went on TV to complain. Eventually Ace got lucky to be alive. He got close though. That’s how he learnt his lesson. He now has the humility to just stick to what he does best. And he’s cool with it.
What does it take to go to the top? What does it take to stay on top? Why are we desperately trying to control our environment before trying to control ourselves?
This publication reflects the views only of the author.