Lansky (2021) – DVD Review

A loose biopic of Meyer Lansky (Harvey Keitel) focuses on his older years, this film is also known in some territories as A Righteous Man. The story is wrapped around “David Stone,” a composite character played by Sam Worthington. Stone is a journalist who comes to interview Lansky in the early ‘80s, near the end of the gangster’s life. As Lansky recounts his life story to Stone, the film shows the interplay between the two and his effort to not give up the secrets of his hidden fortune. Lansky apparently had hidden a lot of money that was never found, and the Feds were always on his case. It’s more the journalist’s film than it is Lansky’s in certain ways.

It’s a perfectly serviceable sub-Scorsese movie that will find some audience on digital platforms. It’s definitely more The Irishman than Goodfellas, if you were going to make a direct Scorsese comparison.

The big highlight is Keitel, who of course can do a role like this in his sleep (and he has, in the past). I’ve never liked him much as an actor, but Worthington is fine, there’s just not much to his blank slate of a character. John Magaro plays the young Lansky in flashbacks. He’s pretty decent as the younger version, who worked for Bugsy Segal’s group. He helped to develop the power of gangsters in the gambling business and set up a federation of criminal organizations that became a national crime syndicate.

It’s not spectacularly shot by cinematographer Peter Flinckenberg, who also shot Silk Road. It ends up looking like a high-end HBO movie—which is funny, since there was an HBO film about Lansky, and it’s probably better than this one. That one starred Richard Dreyfuss, and even had the whole Lansky-being-interviewed wraparound story as well. Neither Keitel nor Dreyfuss look much like the real Meyer—both are Jewish actors, maybe Keitel is a little closer in appearance.

The result is really a run-of-the-mill film, but it’s perfectly fine. It’s always good to see Harvey Keitel get a lead role, but I wsh there had been a bit more of him—he dominates the screen when he’s in the frame. It’s a subdued performance from an actor in his 80s playing an old gangster at the end of the road. There’s no great moment of filmmaking, it’s just a competently done film that won’t leave any lasting impact on the viewer. It was shot in 20 days, a quick shoot where they probably only had Keitel for a week.

★★★

Ian Schultz

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