“They accused me of making a president. Now, I don’t know Mr. Nixon any more than what I read in the newspapers. The closest I ever got to him was seeing him on television. They claim I have 50% of Lebanon’s casinos. Fifty percent of Monte Carlo….Now, how ridiculous can we really get? This is just a global lie. Say it long enough, and you’ll get people to believe it.”
The man who said these words, Meyer Lansky, was the singular financial wizard of the American Mafia.
He was also something of a dockside philosopher who could’ve been more than just the ruthless ”director” of Murder Inc.
”He would have been chairman of the board of General Motors if he’d gone into legitimate business,” an agent of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) once said of Lansky.
Still, he ensured the Mafia’s influence was felt from the streets to the steeples of the hallowed corridors of power as he manipulated stock markets and was bootlegger-in-chief of the Prohibition era.
In this cinematic offering, simply titled “Lansky”, the gangster (played by Harvey Keitel) comes across as a wolf in wolf’s clothing, bleating like sheep.
The plot is as simple as the movie’s title, David Stone (Frank Worthington) is a journalist so broke that his stories are confined to the dotted line so he can get paid and possibly laid, since his marriage over.
To lift him out of the rut of his penury and help him pay his alimony cheques, Lansky commissions him to write his biography.
Sure, he doesn’t do so to help Stone, but to embalm his (Lansky’s) legacy so it is airbrushed out of a rogues’ gallery and vaulted into a pantheon of America’s unsung heroes.
There is one major proviso though; the book must be published after he is dead.
Not Stone, Lansky.
Although working closely with Lansky does put Stone a Stone’s throw away from death. So he is also advised not to launch any pebbles in the direction of Lansky’s glass house of a reputation by talking to the Feds.
If he does so, he’ll be blown back to the Stone Age (pun intended).
The conversations between Stone and Lansky form the basis of this movie and shape fodder for the book issuing therefrom, so they must be good.
Sadly, however, Stone’s dead-eyed demeanor is like a needle to Lansky ballooning conversational skills.
So we could call him buster, even though the Feds nominally earn that title as they swoop in, ever so gingerly, to see if they can find where Lansky hid the $300 million in assets they claim he has.
All the while, through a series of flashbacks, Lansky talks about his younger self (played by John Magaro) being involved in gambling, murder, how he hunkered down with Ben “Bugsy” Seigel (David Cade) and teamed up with Charles “Lucky” Luciano (Shane McRae).
“The only thing Bugsy enjoyed more than killing was the ladies, or maybe it was the other way around,” Lansky relates.
Or maybe he just liked gorgeous ladies with looks that could kill, or maybe not.
Bugsy seems to be of two minds about everything except a single-minded performance by Cade, he really does a spectacular job.
As far as gangster movies go, this film lacks the authenticity of “Donnie Brasco” and intensity of “Scarface”.
Lansky, although very intelligent, lacks the depth of feeling which would’ve given his character a rounder, more wholesome feel.
Even the way he responds to his child’s disability should’ve added dimension to his character, but it only marginally thaws his one-dimensional coldness.
This movie does, however, have the pacing of “Gotti”, John Travolta’s incarnation not Armand Assante’s.
So it is not half bad.
The cinematography is good, it ably brings into focus the saturation, hue, brightness of colours to throw the images into sharper relief.
All told, if you like dialogue-guided screenplay which comes at you in measured instead of Fast & Furious tones; you will enjoy this movie.