Lansky: The Devil Claims to be a Good Guy, too.
Jun 23, 2007
Review by George Chabot
Rated a Very Helpful Review
Plot Details: This opinion reveals major details about the movie's plot.
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This is a biopic on the notorious Meyer Lansky, one of the men at the pinnacle of organized crime in America. Along with Lucky Luciano, Bugsy Siegel, and Frank Costello, Lansky formed The Commission, with the aim of moving organized crime into legitimate business through the unions, transportation companies, and so on.
The story is told from the point of view of Lansky as an old man, vainly trying to get a country to give him asylum so he can avoid trial in the USA for income tax evasion; not for his crimes, mind you, but for forgetting to pay taxes on his ill gotten gains. He is shown in Israel trying to arrange for a plot in a crowded cemetery while his appeal is decided by the Israeli Supreme Court. He is rousted out of Israel and travels to a few different places in South America as the story plays out. In the meantime, flashbacks show some of the happenings that made him who he is.
The movie is a bit too romantic, basically painting Lansky as a victim, whereas he actually was the brains behind the "National Crime Syndicate." Yes, he was smart to play dumb but the movie did not probe much beneath his cover story, i.e., the government was persecuting him because he was a Jew. This is preposterous as he was one of the most notorious criminals in US history.
After helping kill off the older generation Godfathers Maranzano and Masseria, Lansky envisioned the organization that would hide beneath the surface of legitimate business and would be run like a business with a board of directors. He was the architect of "Murder, Inc." a special murder squad used to eliminate recalcitrant hoodlums without creating gang wars between the various "families," as had happened countless times in the past. Once the matter was voted on, orders were passed to Murder, Inc.'s chief Lepke Burkhalter, and the hit was a done deal. Similarly, Lansky was a big force behind Bugsy Siegel's creation of the oasis in the desert, Las Vegas, and the notorious Flamingo Hotel.
Lansky had to eventually withdraw his support from Siegel when the flamboyant gangster got taken for $8 million on a $1 million property. The assassination of Siegel made national headlines. These events are only cursorily touched upon and we spend most of the time with Lansky (Richard Dreyfuss) as the elderly man with his wife of many years. He tells people he is a gambler.
The David Mamet script lacks his usual high impact, giving Lansky a low key character that doesn't really do justice to the high position he occupied in Organized Crime.
Richard Dreyfuss is a great actor and I love seeing him play a character, but the appearance of him as the old man vs the younger man 40 years earlier was not that different and it was confusing to try to figure out where the various flashback scenes fit in time and pay attention to the story also.
Supporting cast includes Eric Roberts as Benjamin Bugsy Siegel and Anthony LaPaglia as Charley Lucky Luciano. Both do reasonably good jobs with their roles, but only have a few minutes of screen time. Roberts was so obnoxious as Siegel I could sense why everybody wanted to kill him.
The HBO DVD is in color in 4x3 television format and runs 116 minutes. The extras consist of subtitles and language choices.
This view of Lansky's life is so laid back it is far overshadowed by most other gangland movies. Before you work your way down to Lansky, try -
Viewing Format: DVD
Video Occasion: None of the Above
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