Meyer Lansky is one of most notorious gangsters of all time, so one would think that a classic crime saga based on his life would make for some pretty compelling cinema. Unfortunately, despite this fascinating true story and good performances, straightforward screenwriting and bland direction keeps Lansky from being more than passable.
The film follows Lansky in his later years as he is investigated by the feds and tells his life story to a writer who is setting out to turn his story into a bestselling book. This framing device of an aging subject reflecting back on their life of crime through an interview is definitely overused, and this movie fails to add anything new to the equation.
Eytan Rockaway attempts to infuse some excitement into the story by cross-cutting between Lansky’s younger and older years, and while this is mostly effective in creating some artificial momentum, the film still wears out its welcome with a runtime nearing two hours. For a story so extraordinary, it’s severely lacking in intrigue.
There are also some missed opportunities with regards to the movie’s commentary. The film deals with all of the common themes of the crime genre like redemption and complicity, and it doesn’t say anything original about them. Moments that feel like they are going to skewer the government simply don’t land.
The movie also makes the questionable decision of increasing the prevalence of the author character who is interviewing Lansky. Rather than just serving as a framing device, he has an arc of his own, which simply distracts from the main storyline for which audiences will be coming to this film.
The two actors who play Lansky — Harvey Keitel and John Magaro — are both solid. Keitel is playing the character about like he has played every other mobster character in his very impressive career, but Magaro really steals the show with a very watchable performance as the younger version of Lansky.
Rockaway’s direction here is very unimpressive. Although the periodization is fine, it’s clearly not made with the biggest of budgets. However, instead of using creativity to imbue the movie with a more unique style, Rockaway settles for something that is very dull and muted, every shot looking entirely fine but lacking in anything that would make it particularly appealing in an aesthetic sense.
Lansky should have been a very strong crime drama, but for the most part, it’s very middling. Strong performances from its two leads aside, audiences have seen plenty of crime films exactly like this before.
Lansky is now in theaters and on VOD.