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Review by Rich Cline |
dir-scr Eytan Rockaway
prd Jeff Hoffman, Robert Ogden Barnum, Eric Binns, Lee Broda
with Harvey Keitel, Sam Worthington, John Magaro, AnnaSophia Robb, Minka Kelly, David James Elliott, Danny A Abeckaser, David Cade, Shane McRae, Wass Stevens, James Moses Black, Alon Aboutboul
release US 25.Jun.21
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Based on the true story of one of the most notorious mobsters in American history, this finely produced biopic about Meyer Lansky never feels rushed even as it moves briskly through the decades. Writer-director Eytan Rockaway is exploring how the legend surrounding someone often becomes much more memorable than the truth. While the film is somewhat uneven, its strength is in how it puts relationships at the story's centre.
Under investigation by Feds in 1981 and recently diagnosed with lung cancer, the confident Russian-born Meyer (Keitel) decides to tell his story to author David (Worthington), on the condition that the book is published after his death. Meyer describes becoming fascinated with gambling from an early age, working out street con-artist scams before starting his own operation as a young Jewish immigrant (Magaro). Instrumental in helping US agents track down German spies during the war, Meyer efficiently oversees the cross-mobs enforcement racket Murder Inc. And his gambling empire stretches from Havana to Las Vegas.
Lively flashback sequences feature a range of colourful characters and anecdotes, usually involving Meyer's childhood pals: original mafia boss Lucky Luciano (McRae) and iconic goon Bugsy Siegel (Cade). These lifelong friendships add intriguing textures to the story, as does the way Meyer carefully gets others to do his dirty work. More personal drama feels more obviously pointed, such as when his wife Anne (Robb) has doubts about his dodgy dealings or when the mob loses patience with Bugsy.
With effortless magnetism, Keitel holds the screen beautifully, quietly recounting stories that are peppered with knowing insight. And Magaro is terrific as the younger Meyer, engaging superbly with various side characters, including the likeable Robb. Meyer and Anne's relationship is portrayed with understatement early on, although Robb gets some bigger scenes later. Worthington is solid in a rather thankless role as a troubled writer who has his own rather distracting romance with a woman (Kelly) in his hotel.
Lansky is a fascinating figure simply because his legend remains so difficult to confirm, as seen in how the tenacious agent (Elliott) in the FBI subplot never quite gets a grip on him. Rumours had him worth hundreds of millions, but he died in 1983 with just $57,000 to his name, echoing the notion that Lansky never had cash, he owned people. Rockaway carefully balances the glamour of a gangster's life with the darker shadows that creep in along the way, even if the "gain the world, lose your soul" theme is somewhat well-worn.
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© 2021 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall
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