The one element which hasn’t had much screen time before is that of Lansky being Jewish. We see him donating money and offering to run guns for the burgeoning effort to reinstate the nation of Israel. There’s some discussion of how the money in the business overrides the racial tensions between Italian, Irish, and Jewish mobsters in the crime organization. I’m not sure that Murder, Inc. as a path to racial and ethnic tolerance is the way, but it’s an interesting note. As is traditional in the genre, the women in the story are little more than props. There’s an angry wife and a seductive siren at Stone’s hotel who’s setting up a honey pot to entrap him. Lansky does go all wistful when talking about his wives, saying that it’s who we associate with that defines who we ultimately become, but it’s too late for him.
Despite the audience’s familiarity with the subject, Lansky has a saving grace by featuring Keitel in the lead role. He never disappoints. Keitel puts on the character like a beautifully tailored suit and vanishes into the role, as only he can. You know it’s Harvey Keitel, you hear his voice, and yet, he becomes Meyer Lansky. His performance elevates what would otherwise be a dull and repetitive gangster fetish film to a higher level of truly engaging cinema. He sparkles. It’s unfortunate that Mr. Keitel didn’t get a gangster starring role 20 years ago because he kills it.
“Keitel puts on the character like a beautifully tailored suit and vanishes into the role…”
Sam Worthington, on the other hand, is equally as mediocre as always. Since his Avatar days, I’ve been pulling for him to step up and deliver a powerful performance, and there have been moments of promise. Still, mostly, his performances remain wooden and uninspired. He’s not bad, but he’s not great either. He still has time to turn it around, as he’ll be featured in one or more of the upcoming James Cameron Avatar sequels.
Lanksy is a good film. The question of where Lansky’s money was/is makes for an intriguing grounding point. If this were the first on-screen story to pull back the curtain on the violent workings of the mob, it would be a great one. Going back to that well now would be tiresome, if not for Harvey Keitel, whose riveting performance makes it a film well worth your time.
"…not sure that Murder, Inc. as a path to racial and ethnic tolerance is the way, but it's an interesting note."