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June 28, 2021 11:47 am

Examining Meyer Lansky on Film

avatar by Alan Zeitlin


Harvey Keitel in “Lansky.” Photo: provided.

In one of the best moments of the new film Lansky, Ben “Bugsy” Siegel and his Jewish buddies beat the living daylights out of Nazi in Yorkville, New York. More importantly, as the film’s title character, Harvey Keitel has the gravitas to fill out the role; the set-up is that he’s giving a set of interviews to a writer named David Stone (a very good Sam Worthington).

Although Lansky happily donated money to Israel when the country needed it to secure its establishment, his crimes and life in the criminal underworld are obviously problematic and contrary to Jewish values.

There is little Jewish mafia to speak of today in America, but during the mid-2oth century, Lansky and Siegel played large roles. Keitel is masterful in the role of a man who admits he was unfaithful to his wife and did ugly things, but believes that men must take advantage of their skills and the opportunities that present themselves. We don’t see much remorse, nor should we — as what good would it do? David Cade is silky smooth as the violent Siegel, who gets caught up in the fame and the women in California, and puts Lanksy between a rock and a hard place.

Keitel knows how to show power without raising his voice. He’s played tough guys in films such as Reservoir Dogs, The Irishman, and Pulp Fiction. Directed by Eytan Rockaway, the film doesn’t go too deep into Lansky’s two wives (we only see the first), but it’s not needed. John Magaro is extremely effective as a young Lansky, who takes charge and shows that he can take control of almost any situation with his mind.

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Other than one eye-gouging moment, the film is not as violent as it could be. What makes the film interesting is Keitel’s genius, and Worthington’s every-man quality. The most powerful part of the film is when an Israel emissary — who asks for money for Israel on behalf of Golda Meir — takes down his sleeve, and shows his tattoo from the Holocaust.

Unlike previous depictions of the gangster’s life, Lansky’s Judaism is an integral part of this film.

Every group has its good and bad people. Does giving money to Israel excuse his mafia dealings? Most would say no, and Israel did not allow him to stay there after a year, despite his being Jewish. Lansky died in 1983 and is buried in Miami, Florida. FBI agents in the film try to find a supposed hidden $300 million dollars and even try to use David and his female interest in a scheme. We don’t know if this money actually existed.

All in all, Lansky is an extremely powerful movie that shows a man who was shown extreme violence at an early age, and became used to it. The film is in theaters and on Video on Demand.

The author is a writer in New York.

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