Combustible Celluloid
Stream it:
Download at i-tunes iTunes
Own it:
With: Harvey Keitel, Sam Worthington, Minka Kelly, AnnaSophia Robb, John Magaro, Shane McRae, David Cade, David James Elliott, Danny A. Abeckaser
Written by: Eytan Rockaway, based on a story by Robert Rockaway, Eytan Rockaway
Directed by: Eytan Rockaway
MPAA Rating: R for strong bloody violence, language and some sexual references
Running Time: 119
Date: 06/25/2021

Lansky (2021)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Meyer Straits

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Not much different than the plethora of gangster movies that populated cinemas of the 1990s, Lansky gets by on Keitel's impressive performance, as well on a handful of surprising story twists.

Writer David Stone (Sam Worthington) is broke and estranged from his wife and family. So when he gets an offer to tell the life story of famous gangster Meyer Lansky (Harvey Keitel), he can't say no. They meet in a diner, and the story begins to unfold, beginning with Lansky's childhood, and his finding the angle behind a dice game. Soon, the young Lansky (John Magaro) has developed a gambling empire, run by himself and the "muscle," Ben (don't call him "Bugsy") Siegel (David Cade).

As the story grows more and more incredible, including Lansky attacking Nazi rallies, aiding the U.S. government, starting a multi-cultural crime syndicate, and opening a casino in Cuba, Stone realizes that the story is not over. The FBI is still after Lansky, seeking a supposedly missing and hidden $300 million.

The entire setup and layout of Lansky is old hat, and scenes of gangsters violently intimidating people, struggling with eroding personal relationships, and putting the hurt on double-crossers, are wearily familiar. The 1981 wraparound/interview sequences are likewise a creaky old device, but nonetheless, they are where the movie comes to life. Keitel — who is a veteran of this world, having played Mickey Cohen alongside Ben Kingsley's Meyer Lansky in Bugsy (1991) — is thoroughly commanding as the older Lansky, both intimidating and magnetic.

Additionally, by giving the interviewer character, Worthington's David Stone, his own strengths and weaknesses, the scenes doubly resonate. When not talking to Lansky, Stone guiltily flirts with Maureen (Minka Kelly), a woman he spots lounging in her bikini by his hotel's pool; he quickly, innocently breaks all of Lansky's rules, generating a certain amount of tension.

Coupled with earlier scenes of Lansky standing up to Nazis or refusing to rig his slot machines in his casinos makes him seem almost surprisingly benevolent. Earlier gangster movies may have been romanticized cautionary tales, but Lansky actually includes elements that are, ironically, admirable.

Movies Unlimtied