Live By Night is a film adapted by Ben Affleck from the 2012 novel of the same name by Dennis Lehane. Set in the 1920s and 1930s, the story follows Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), the prodigal son of a Boston police captain. After moving to Florida, he becomes a bootlegger and a rum-runner and, later, a notorious gangster.
If you are a Ben Affleck fan, you’ll more than likely enjoy this film. While not a stretch of his emotional prowess as a leading man, he goes through the motions of his character believably enough. Although, Coughlin is unremarkable for the most part. In almost any genre film about the mob, gangsters, etc. the character we follow HAS to have some personality.
Good or bad, the most notable capos have some type of emotion we can recall, right? Ray Liotta’s Henry Hill in Goodfellas had his maniacal laughter and sense of humor, Al Pacino’s Tony Montana in Scarface had his temper and drugs, and Steve Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson on Boardwalk Empire had his patience and ruthlessness. Coughlin has his….chin? His desire to NOT be a mobster (which of course doesn’t work out)?
Affleck works best for me as a director, with one or two exceptions. His vision and voice behind the camera are more interesting on average than his performances, and this film is no exception. Live By Night has a rather excellent car chase, remarkable for the tight focus of the camera angles and the sound design. The shootout takeover between two crews is also well done, if you are a fan of period gunplay (1920’s gangsters with tommy guns and such) you’ll appriciate the latter half of the film.
I could have done with less Irish Sienna Miller, who I normally like, but this role wasn’t her best. Her chemistry with Affleck was good, her slightness next to his broadness worked well on camera. Zoe Saldana was also good, not great, but almost feels wasted in a role with no real growth.
SCORE: 2.5 OUT OF 5, viewed in standard non 3D. Will see again when out on DVD.
The Good: Affleck as a director is on average always good, the single take emotional gift of Elle Fanning as Loretta Figgis pouring her heart out to Coughlin is the truest human moment we get in the film. Chris Cooper as Chief Figgis is on point, he delivers in a performance of a good man pushed to the point of crazed action. The period cars are absolutely the highlight. They are shown with such beauty and grace, you’d think they were the love interests.
The Bad: lack of any real emotion on the part of the main character. Death of wife notwithstanding, I struggle to recall anything about Coughlin’s personality that was HIM and not his reaction to a loss (of which there are two). There almost wasn’t enough true gangster for a genre entry, two scenes of crime and gunfights, not enough to push it into that position on the film food chain.
Live By Night opens worldwide on January 13th, 2017.