‘Lansky’ Review: A Mobster Burnishes His Legacy

Harvey Keitel’s performance as Meyer Lansky is the best part of “Lansky.” To improve the public impression of his profession, he agreed to recount his story in 1981 to a writer who was dying of lung cancer.

It’s hard to tell if Keitel’s Lansky is friendly or coldblooded because of the way he portrays him. He orders tongue sandwiches at a delicatessen in Miami, where he lives, and sets out the guidelines for the writer, a figure named David Stone (Sam Worthington). He is unable to utilise a digital recorder. Unless he is specifically told differently, everything is confidential. With that in mind, Lansky tells Stone that if he deviates from the terms of their contract, “there will be consequences.”

Eytan Rockaway’s film focuses on the link between the writer and his topic as its central theme. Consequently, when “Lansky,” starring John Magaro (“First Cow”) in flashback scenes, reveals that the mobster has a younger self, it’s shocking.

He is regarded as the “reputed financial genius of the underground,” with his fingers suspected to be involved in bootleggery, gambling in Cuba and other rackets, according to the obituary he was published in 1983.

Some of the gangster clichés are laughable, especially when the film focuses on Lansky’s Jewish heritage. “If you need any guns or ammo, just let me know,” he says after handing over some money to an Israeli emissary. A montage of killings should never be scored to “Hava Nagila” again, as Rockaway does at another point.

The sequences from 1981 that don’t feature Keitel are just as pointless. FBI investigators are on the prowl for stray cash. The character of Minka Kelly, who stays at Stone’s motel, has a hidden agenda, and she’s played by Kelly herself. The epilogue, in which Stone muses on what he learned from Lansky — “We measure ourselves through the eyes of the ones we love” — is a bizarre diversion into sentimentality. “Lansky,” like “Bugsy” (1991), ends with surrealistically optimistic on-screen text touting the benefits of the gambling sector to the economy.

R-rated flick Lansky. It’s business, not personal. 59 minutes of screen time. The film is currently playing in cinemas and may be rented or purchased on Google Play, FandangoNow, and a variety of other streaming services and pay TV providers.