Scenes like these, told through flashback, feel as if they could have been more powerful if Keitel had just told the story; sometimes all you need is a great actor, a solid monologue and a camera. Instead, the Hollywood veteran sets them up, then we are led to John Magaro (“First Cow”) to perform as young Lansky. While Magaro is acceptable, such moments emphasize the difference between an actor and a movie star. No matter what non-quantifiable quality separates the two, Keitel has always had it – and no one else in “Lansky” is in the same neighborhood when it comes to commanding the camera’s attention.
But it’s not because of a lack of experience. AnnaSophia Robb, who plays Lansky’s wife Anne, gets a scene as a young girl with an attraction to gangster life and then spends the rest of the film screaming, beating and telling her husband he’s going to hell. Never before has such an empty, underdeveloped character been so high and disgusting. Minka Kelly’s Maureen, meanwhile, lingers like a walking thirst trap by the hotel’s pool where Worthington’s Stone resides, and begins an affair with the author who is so suspicious that it makes you wonder how this guy is smart enough to put a sentence together. She is also stranded by a script that gives her a scary ex-boyfriend for only one scene when it needs him, and later she moves her away when her services are no longer required.
Robb and Kelly represent the extent of female involvement in this film, with the exception of a deli waitress who occasionally says a line drawn by the word “she.” Not only does this film sadly fail the Bechdel test, but it dishonors a mob story that has done surprisingly well over the years in exploring complex female characters – think Diane Keaton in “The Godfather” film, Lorraine Bracco in “Goodfellas” Annette Bening in “Bugsy,” Sharon Stone in “Casino” and Kelly Macdonald and Gretchen Mol on “Boardwalk Empire.” Sometimes the best way to understand a gangster is through the eyes of the woman he allows into his life – but here it’s an opportunity wasted on clichéd hysteria and cheap seduction.