Sep 13, 2014

Review: Lansky (1999)

An HBO crime TV film based on true events with acclaimed actor Richard Dreyfuss playing the starring role? Naturally that already sounds like a pretty promising affair. HBO put out Lansky in February of 1999. You know what came out in January of 1999, less than a month before? The Sopranos. With director John McNaughton who's directed one of the most controversial movies of all time when it came to the MPAA and the BBFC in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, Lansky has the potential to be something. This is also HBO, where swearing and violence are pretty much given free reign.

Richard Dreyfuss plays Meyer Lansky, a man who was nicknamed the "Mob's Accountant." He was a Jew who immigrated from Poland and had a hand in the Jewish Mob and the Italian Mob. The dude was an important piece in setting up organized crime across the United States. That's how much power he had and there's no doubt that there's a movie to be made about him from his story.

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Genre: drama, crime
Directed by: John McNaughton
Produced by: Fred C. Caruso, David Mamet, Nicholas Paleologos, etc.
Written by: David Mamet
Music by: George S. Clinton
Running time: 114 minutes
Production company: Frederick Zollo Productions, HBO Films, Home Box Office
Distributed by: Home Box Office, Home Box Office Home Video, Best Seller, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: N/A

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Eric Roberts, Anthony LaPaglia, Yosef Carmon, Mosko Alkalai, Stanley DeSantis, Jeff Perry, Illeana Douglas, Ron Gilbert, Nick Corello, Beverly D'Angelo, James Harper, Tom La Grua, Sal Landi, Robert Miano, Peggy Jo Jacobs, Joshua Praw, Ryan Merriman, Max Perlich, Matthew Settle

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Synopsis


Meyer Lansky (Richard Dreyfuss), currently in Jerusalem remembers his tumultuous childhood. When he was a boy, his family was forced to flee the Polish city of Grodno because of a rash of pogroms. Arriving in New York City, he quickly fell into the world of gambling followed by a variety of other illegal exploits along with friends Bugsy Siegel (Eric Roberts) and Lucky Luciano (Anthony LaPaglia).

Review


The bones of a good movie are there but Lanksy never actually puts any flesh on those bones. Dreyfuss, Roberts and LaPaglia make a good enough trio but there is pretty much nothing compelling at all about the entire 114 minutes of this film. It's undeniably boring and by the end of it I didn't feel like I had learned anything about doing crime during the time period the story takes place in or about Meyer Lansky himself. How the latter could happen is a complete mystery to me.

Richard Dreyfuss has the look of Meyer Lansky down pretty nicely and his acting performance seems pretty good at first. The makeup is well done and Dreyfuss does the old man walk pretty convincingly too. But wow does his performance get annoying after a while. Old man Lansky to me is a heavy breathing man who has a habit of chuckling after everything he says. There is nothing else to Dreyfuss' performance because he's not given anything interesting to do anyway but annoyingly give advice at every opportunity. Followed by lots of chuckling when he can fit it in. It would appear that everything in Lansky's life is an opportunity to be a preachy know-it-all and claim to be nothing more than a gambler whenever his character is called into question.

The pacing of Lansky feels off at times because of how much the movie jumps through time periods of Meyer Lansky's life combined with the fact that it's a TV movie and has to make room for commercials. There is a lot of ground covered but never is there any real exploration into the mind of Lansky. He does some pretty crazy stuff and yes, some of it is highly illegal. Movie watchers and makers have had a love affair with criminals for a long time but I'm not sure that the makers of Lansky really cared that much about Meyer Lansky at all if this film is anything to go by.

Another huge problem is that the scriptwriter David Mamet seems to expect you to know all about Meyer Lansky. So much stuff gets glossed over and nothing seems to be properly explained. I don't think it's a case of me wanting to be spoonfed either. Some episodes of Lansky's life are pretty clear but then as soon as there's something that requires a bit more development, the story jumps into the future and that's that. I can get that Lansky has had a pretty exciting life but I don't even know what it is he exactly did. I got more information from his Wikipedia page than from this film.

Lansky feels very TV movie-ish at times and despite a promising cast, it's a complete failure as a crime movie. The portion of the story that takes place in the present is dull and the portion of the story which takes place in the past never amounts to anything. Nothing builds up to any sort of excitement and there really could've been. Dreyfuss as Meyer Lansky ended up completely getting on my nerves but probably the biggest failure of Lansky is that I did not know who the blazes Meyer Lansky was by the end of it. Here's his Wikipedia page, you'll learn more about him there.

Rating


5/10