Criminally cliched

A major figure in the mid-20th-century American underworld, Meyer Lansky had fingers in casino pies from Las Vegas to Atlantic City to Havana to London. He was responsible for the rival hoodlum extermination service known as “Murder Inc.” He developed the National Crime Syndicate along with “Lucky” Luciano. In short, he put the “organized” into organized crime. He was also a noted Nazi-buster and helped fund a nascent Israel.

Smart and savvy, he was never convicted of anything more serious than illegal gambling. The feds think he had $30 million dollars squirreled away when he died. None of it has ever been found.

Seems like a good subject for a movie. Eytan Rockaway’s workmanlike shot at it takes the form of an aging, dying Lansky granting a struggling young writer (Sam Worthington) a series of exclusive interviews for a book that would tell the “truth” about him. The movie is competent and hits all its marks. But one must wonder what Meyer would have thought of a movie about him that could be described as “workmanlike” and “competent.” Unique as the story is, there’s no real arc to connect a dozen or so chapters (mostly told in flashbacks, featuring John Magaro), and it turns into kind of a slog.

Of course, Rockaway gets one really big thing right, and casting Harvey Keitel in the title role elevates this from a string of mobster tropes to a must-see, at least for the many fans of the actor’s work. Say something nice, Don: It’s better than Gotti.

(119 min)