Tag Archives: Sam Worthington

On the Record

Lansky

by Rachel Willis

You might not be familiar with the name Meyer Lansky, but chances are you’re familiar with some of his known associates: Bugsy Siegel and Lucky Luciano. Writer/director Etyan Rockaway decided the time was right to focus on one of the Mafia’s most infamous but un-famous gangsters.

There are quite a few gangster movies, both good (Goodfellas, The Godfather) and bad (Gotti, The Family). Lansky falls somewhere in the center. Never overly imaginative, Rockaway plays it safe with a middling film about a narcissistic mob figure who wants to control the narrative. To do this, an aging Lansky (Harvey Keitel) hires a broke writer, David Stone (Sam Worthington), to pen his tale.

Told in flashbacks within a 1980s framing story, Lansky regales Stone with stories from his childhood, learning to hustle on the streets of – where else? – New York City. However, as Lansky enters adulthood, the tales become violent.

Portraying the Lansky of the past is John Magaro, who makes the character his own while still embracing the inflections and mannerisms of Keitel’s older wise guy. Magaro brings a sinister element, while Keitel embraces the role of a man mellowed by age. It’s a dynamic casting job, and the film’s standout element.

Rockaway’s script glosses over much of Lansky’s past, with large jumps in time, allowing the film to devote equal time to the framing story. Here is where the film tries to carve some new ground. Stone’s story is, in some ways, the more interesting of the two. There’s a moral line Stone must cross to listen to the brutalities in Lansky’s past – especially as he’s bound to secrecy until Lansky has died.

Unfortunately, rather than centering the focus on the ambiguous morality of Stone’s situation, Rockaway’s film instead tries to convince you Lansky is an ‘angel with a dirty face.’

It’s not unheard of to root for the bad guy – Scarface is one of the ultimate examples of this in the genre – but Lansky is not a fictional character. His history is bloody, and his few good deeds hardly outweigh the bad. It’s an odd choice when the true moral crux lies with Stone.

Lansky runs itself ragged trying to cover as many bases as possible, and we’re left with a messy film about one of the most notorious men in Mafia history.

Tin Roof, Rusted

The Shack

by George Wolf

Grief, faith and healing are serious subjects, but is it really fair to expect depth on these matters from a film based on a children’s story? To see how it can be done, you need only go back a few months to find When A Monster Calls, so yes, it’s more than fair.

There is precious little depth at home in The Shack, despite the mansions full of good intentions.

The uneven mix of sermon and parable follows Mac (Sam Worthington), a grieving father turning away from religion after the murder of his young daughter. A strange invite lures him to the scene of the crime itself, where Mac meets God (Octavia Spencer, pulling it off as you knew she would) and begins his journey of reconciliation.

Based on the self-published novel by William P. Young (originally intended only as a gift for his children), The Shack cannot get us invested in either Mac or his family. Director Stuart Hazeldine and a team of writers (which surprisingly includes Destin Daniel Cretton, director of the excellent Short Term 12) instead manage paper-thin cliches and narrated platitudes such as “She’s the glue that holds the family together” posing as character development.

Mac’s question for the Almighty is big and familiar. If God loves us, how can he/she permit evil acts to occur? The answers, sweet but hardly profound, are hampered by execution which seems bent on reassuring the white suburban male.

In addition to Spencer’s God, Mac has spiritual meetings with an Asian woman, an Israeli, a Native American and a Latina. An underlying message of wisdom through diversity or just more “magic ethnicity” at the movies? If it’s the former, having Mac return home to a completely white congregation is not helping.

Good films rarely resort to preaching about anything. For 132 minutes, this film relies on a structure that’s inherently problematic for anyone but the choir. It tells us much but, despite a few lush visuals, shows us very little. As lovely as the message may be, The Shack is a strangely joyless endeavor, landing more as a chore than a calling.

Verdict-2-0-Stars