by Tony Medley
“Based on a true story” again gets stretched. Heretofore, Meyer Lansky (Harvey Keitel and John Magaro as the younger Lansky), the money man who was Lucky Luciano’s (Shane McRae) right hand man in ruling the Mafia in the ‘30s, has been shown as a mild-mannered man who really cared only about business and didn’t get his hands dirtied in the business of killing and hurting people. This film puts the lie to that, although it stretches the truth to the breaking point.
It shows him present when Bugsy Siegel (David Cade) murders a man in his office by talking nicely to him and then shooting him in the head. Lansky just sits and watches and then walks out with Bugsy as if nothing untoward happened. I don’t know if this is true, but it does show that while Lansky might not have pulled any triggers, he was certainly on board with the brutal business of the Mafia.
There are some things that seem to be outright false. For example,
the film has Bugsy Siegel killing Sal Maranzano (Jay Giannone), but the assassins were Vito Genovese, Albert Anastasia, Joe Adonis, and Samuel Levine. It also shows that the killing occurred with Lansky in the room as Maranzano was attempting to recruit him to assassinate Luciano. There is no evidence that Lansky was in the room, nor have I ever heard that Maranzano was trying to get Lansky to kill Lucky.
Equally questionable is the claim that Lansky “finally got a seat at the table, next to…Al Capone…” Maranzano was killed on Sept. 10, 1931; Capone was sent to prison on October 17, 1931, so he was probably in trial on Sept 10 the first time that “the table” could have become available to Luciano and he couldn’t possibly have completed his takeover that fast. It’s unlikely that Lansky ever had a “seat at the table” while Capone was still operating. In fact, it’s unlikely that there was a “table” in existence when Capone was operating because Luciano is the one who created the organized crime creature the Mafia became.
So those deficits detract from the verisimilitude of the film which is otherwise compelling. Written & directed by Eytan Rockaway, the film presents sterling performances by Keitel and Sam Worthington as David Stone, a journalist who is interviewing Lansky to write his biography. Also sparkling are David James Elliot as an FBI agent out to find money Lansky has allegedly hidden and Anna Sophia Robb as the woman who spots Lansky early on and marries him, to her regret.
Despite the questionable Hollywood flourishes referenced above, this is an entertaining and interesting movie, and it does capture the cold-hearted evil that was present in this apparently mild-mannered man.
Tony Medley is an attorney, columnist, and MPAA-accredited film critic whose reviews and articles may be read in several newspapers and at rottentomatoes.com, CWEB.com, Movie Review Query Engine (mrqe.com), and at www.tonymedley.com. His most recent book is “Learn to Play Bridge Like a Boss,” the most complete “all in one” book for beginners and also for advanced players. He is also the author of three books, UCLA Basketball: The Real Story, Sweaty Palms: The Neglected Art of Being Interviewed, the first book ever written on the interview for the interviewee and still in print after more than thirty years, having sold over a half million copies, and The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Bridge, which has sold over 100,000 copies. He is an American Contract Bridge League Silver Life Master and an ACBL accredited director.
Forward to a friend