Live By Night FILM REVIEW
LIVE BY NIGHT
Director: Ben Affleck
Screenplay: Ben Affleck
Starring: Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Sienna Miller
Rated R for strong violence, language throughout, and some sexuality/nudity
Running Time: 2 hours 8 minutes
**1/2 out of *****
Joe Coughlin is a gangster on the rise in Ben Affleck's gangster drama LIVE BY NIGHT.
In the 1930s and 1940s, gangster films, as well as westerns, were the type of escapist entertainment audiences flocked to see at their local cinema. At the time, only a few generations separated audiences from the reality of the old west and the exploits unfolding on screen. However, gangster films were very relevant, very current and likely pulled straight from the headlines. Audiences could escape the cold and harsh reality of real life gangster tales by heading to the safety of the movie theatre and watching "fictional" ones. Edward G. Robinson, James Cagney, Paul Muni. SCARFACE, PUBLIC ENEMY, LITTLE CAESAR. These are just a few of the names and films that one may think of when talking about gangster films. Much like audiences of yesterday, 21st century audiences desire the same escapist entertainment, in this case gangsters. Ben Affleck's adaptation of Dennis Lehane's LIVE BY NIGHT strives to satiate that desire but does so to decidedly mixed results.
In LIVE BY NIGHT, Joe Coughlin, played by Affleck, is the son of a Boston police captain who falls for the wrong dame, has a run in with the law and in time becomes a prolific gangster in Florida. That's a fairly basic description of the plot of this film and it doesn't seem all that original when compared to the countless other gangster films which have proceeded it. The film is based on Dennie Lehane's novel of the same name. Having not read the source material it's hard to say just how faithful Affleck's screenplay is. Story wise it hits all the familiar beats one might expect to see in a crime film about gangsters. It has the look and feel of an old school gangster picture. However, that being said the film seems to be going through the motions. To put it simply it lacks the energy and intensity that pervades Affleck's THE TOWN; another crime novel adaptation which the writer-director co-wrote.
Affleck stars as Joe and gives a fairly reserved performance. He's certainly not as volatile as Tony Montana, referring to the 1983 incarnation, but the character could have been more engaging. Most of the drama stems from Joe desperately holding on to his morals and conscience while being knee deep in the criminal underworld. As a result Joe has his moments, like when dealing with the KKK or when he has no choice but to blackmail someone he respects. Unfortunately, there weren't enough of these moments throughout the entire picture. The director has assembled a solid supporting cast and they deliver uniformly good performances considering what they had to work with. The film features Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper, Sienna Miller and Chris Messina. Of the leads, Cooper's Sheriff Figgis proves to be the most intriguing and not enough time is spent with him which is a shame.
A director can be expected to hit every film out of the park but in reality that rarely ever happens. Every film director has had their missteps and it would appear LIVE BY NIGHT is his. Affleck's latest directorial effort certainly doesn't live up to his previous films especially when you consider his last was the exceptional thriller ARGO. In terms of entertainment and energy this film has numerous peaks and valleys. While the peaks have compelling moments the valleys are populated with one genre cliche after another which at times renders it rather bland. On the surface the film feels very much like the classic gangster films of the past but below it's mostly a retread of the countless elements genre fans have come to expect and know. It's certainly watchable but ultimately won't stay with you when it's over.