LIVE BY NIGHT (USA/15A/128mins)
Directed by Ben Affleck. Starring Ben Affleck, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Cooper
THE PLOT: After fighting the Huns in France, Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) returns to Prohibition-Era Boston, swearing never to follow orders again. After starting out as an outlaw, Coughlin relocates to Florida – after a stint in prison – to work with the Italian mob family under Maso Pescatore in taking down the leader of the Irish mob. While in Florida, Coughlin makes the Pescatore family a lot of money, but runs into trouble with the KKK and the devoutly religious.
THE VERDICT: After ‘Gone Baby Gone’, ‘Live by Night’ is the second Ben Affleck directed film to be based on a novel by Dennis Lehane. The good news is that Affleck has rounded up an impressive cast for his fourth film as director, but the not so good news is that ‘Live By Night’ is messy, bloated and sincerely lacks relatable characters.
The cast of the film is made up of Ben Affleck, Zoe Saldana, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Chris Cooper, Scott Eastwood, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson and Anthony Michael Hall. While this cast boasts some impressive names, not many of these normally strong actors get a lot to do; Chris Cooper and Elle Fanning have some lovely moments throughout the film, but Chris Messina just lurks in the background, Sienna Miller fumbles her way through an Irish accent, Brendan Gleeson has a small, almost insignificant role, and Affleck himself fails to make the outlaw and general law breaker Joe Coughlin a rounded, emotional character, and Coughlin is certainly not one that the audience can root for.
As screenwriter, Ben Affleck spends both too much and too little time on the set up of the story, with Coughlin’s shifting loyalties barely being examined throughout the script. The lead character is drawn as a wooden and emotionless man who is good at intimidation and seducing beautiful women, but has little else in the way of charm. The women in the film are catalysts rather than characters, and none of the characters are given enough motivation or emotion to make them seem real. The pieces are all there for ‘Live by Night’ to be a great film, but since Affleck has explored this type of underworld before, it seems his heart is not in it, making ‘Live by Night’ a whole lot less than the sum of its parts.
As director, Affleck seems to have lost the skill for punchy, humorous and tense films that he has displayed in the past with ‘Argo’, ‘Gone Baby Gone’ and ‘The Town’, and seems happy to allow ‘Live by Night’ to drift through its meandering storyline with nary a set piece to at least break up the action. None of the supporting cast truly get a moment to shine throughout the film, and choosing to put the emotional heart and soul of the film on his own shoulders means that the film lives – or more appropriately, dies – at the hands of Affleck’s strangely wooden performance.
In all, ‘Live by Night’ is not the exciting gangster revenge flick we hoped it would be. Affleck seems to have lost his golden touch as both actor and director, and although the film looks great, it is hard to find a character to root for in the film, much less one who goes through a true emotional journey. ‘Live by Night’ could have been a great gangster caper, but as it stands it is dull, bland and emotionless.
RATING: 2/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    For his fourth turn in the directing chair, Ben Affleck has once again turned to crime and celebrated Boston author Dennis Lehane, this time with gangster thriller Live By Night. But is it more than the sum of its parts?

    Joe (Affleck) is a cop’s son who has come home to Boston disillusioned with the outcome of World War I. Looking for something more stimulating, he becomes seduced by the gangster lifestyle. On on side, there’s the Italian mob run by Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone) and on the other there’s the Irish mob run by Albert White (Robert Glenister). Joe falls in with White’s gang and is drawn to White’s moll Emma (Sienna Miller). When Joe’s illicit relationship with Emma is discovered he runs to the other side and Pescatore gives him a job dealing with rum rackets in Florida. At the height of Prohibition, liquor has become a highly valuable commodity and he teams up with Graciella (Zoe Saldana) and her Cuban bootleggers to provide supply and demand. All the while, Joe has vengeance in mind for White…

    Affleck’s prior adaptation of a Lehane novel, Gone Baby Gone, was a distinct and well-regarded character piece that began his renaissance and re-evaluation after years of ridicule. Sadly, going back to the Lehane well has not yielded the same results a second time around. Live By Night is a turgid story, at least in the form that Affleck has delivered in his adaptation. There’s a heady mix of characters and incidents involved in this film – Boston gangsters, corrupt police, Cuban gangs, religious fundamentalists and even the Ku Klux Klan, with some added some Southern spices. It’s all stirred up into a fairly unappetising gumbo that never gels together the way it should.

    Characters and incidents pass off without much impact. A spell in prison for Joe is over before it’s even started, so there’s no suggestion that he’s learned anything from his experience on the inside. White and Pescatore are set up as the antagonists for Joe, but neither of them makes much impact. Other characters like Elle Fanning’s good-girl-turned-bad Loretta and her cop father Irving (Chris Cooper) drift in and out of the story. The story really needed to be punched up a bit, to give it more of an edge, some drive and a more direct purpose.

    The film looks and sounds great though, capturing the period detail and the extravagance of the gangster lifestyle with flair. The actors do the best they can with their thinly-written characters (Miller’s Irish accent is half-decent too). However, the end result is somewhat hollow and lacking emotional depth – hence this reviewer’s non-reaction to the film’s closing scenes. Affleck has been in the good books so far, so Live By Night should be regarded as a mis-step for him. It’s a film brimming with potential, but which is half-baked and somewhat lacking. **

  • Clive Bower

    Not one of Ben Affeck’s best works to date i am afraid, the film in parts was very good but the story for me jumped too quickly from point to point without really caring for the actors roles , Brendan Gleeson is a fine example. In saying that i did enjoy it its worth a watch but maybe wait a few months and rent it rather that the big screen