Film review: Lansky or A Righteous Man (2021), directed by Eytan Rockaway
tl;dr: Why is “A.R.” Sir Does Not Appear In This Movie?
In the early 1980s, David Stone (Sam Worthington) is a struggling writer with marital problems. He’s gone to Florida to write his latest book, and this one is going to be the Big One, the one where he Makes It. Aging, yet still notorious, gangster Meyer Lansky (Harvey Keitel) has asked him to pen his biography. He wants to tell his side of the story, of Murder Inc. and the National Crime Syndicate, before cancer catches up with him.
Two FBI agents (David Elliott and Danny A Abeckaser) are trying to get information about him, because it’s said Lansky has millions of dollars stashed away (see also: Capone) that the government would like to seize. Their boss (James Moses Black) is weary about wasting resources pursuing a decades old cold case.
When not flirting with the woman next door at the motel (Minka Kelly), Stone starts meeting Lansky at a diner, and the old gangster starts to tell his story. How he met Charlie “Lucky” Luciano (Shane McRae) as a child, how the younger him (John Magaro) met his wife Anne (AnnaSophia Robb), and Ben don’t-you-dare-calling-him-“Bugsy” Siegel (David Cade).
Famous gangsters from history also put in an appearance: Al Capone (Robert Walker-Branchaud), Salvatore Maranzano (Jay Giannone), Albert Anastasia (Vincent Minutella), Joe Bonnano (Claudio Bellante), and so on. For someone with an interest in historical gangsters, this is obviously great fun, but also very frustrating. Lansky and Luciano were associates of big time gangster Arnold Rothstein in New York, and yet there’s not even a mention of him in the film. He doesn’t feature at all. Siegel is a much bigger presence than Luciano as well.
I didn’t get the feeling of Lansky being the “accountant” in Boardwalk Empire, so that side of him being portrayed here is both historically accurate (from what I can tell, I haven’t looked into Lansky much) and nice to see, but the complete lack of Rothstein is puzzling.
They could have even decided to explore the rumours of a potential sexual relationship between Lansky and Luciano, which there are a few slight nods to in Boardwalk Empire but never explicitly stated, but they didn’t. On the other hand, since it’s Lansky telling his life story the way he wants to be remembered, and it was still early 1980s, it’s perhaps not surprising if he’d choose to omit that part.
It wasn’t a bad film, but it wasn’t a particularly interesting one either, which is surprising considering the subject matter. The FBI agent subplot feels like they were tacked onto the story to give it some kind of conflict or raised stakes, but if it had been a straight up biopic that might have actually made for a more engaging film. Instead it feels like it doesn’t really know what it wants to say. Is it about Lansky or is it about Stone? I don’t really care about Stone either, because that’s not why I’m watching the film. You don’t watch Interview With A Vampire for the reporter, he’s only there as a plot device to allow someone else to tell the actual story. Who the reporter is and what his personal circumstances are is beside the point. Lansky decides the plot device is equally important to the interview subject, and that’s probably part of why it feels like it doesn’t quite work.
But Harvey Keitel is very good in it.
3.5 out of 5 tape recorders.