Ben Affleck fumbles with crime, opportunism and the American dream in his fourth feature film, and it’s as fun as it is frustrating.
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The 1920’s are roaring in Boston and Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck), the son of a distinguished police captain (Brendan Gleeson), has turned his back on his moral upbringing, seeing a bright future in a life of crime. He works for feared gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister), holding up banks and peddling booze, while having a secret affair with White’s wife Emma (Sienna Miller). His plan to flee and begin a new life with Emma comes crashing to a halt during a botched robbery, forcing him to face the wrath of White, the police force, and jail time. A few years later Joe is free, and finds a new boss in Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone), the head of the Italian Mafia. Promised revenge against White, Joe heads to California to begin his own gangster empire.
Ben Affleck is having a pretty rough time lately. His divorce from Jennifer Garner was widely publicised, with reports stating his infidelity was the cause. His two recent big hitters – The Accountant, and in particular Batman v Superman – turned out to be huge disappointments. And now, after making his comeback as one of the best actor-turned-directors in history (with Gone Baby Gone, The Town and the Best Picture-winning Argo), he’s broken his hot streak with a much less impressive fourth feature. Poor guy.
That isn’t to say Live By Night is a bad film. In fact, there’s a potentially great gangster film hiding somewhere in there. Prohibition era Boston, Florida and Cuba are stunningly recreated for the screen, with director of photography Robert Richardson continuing his run of shooting visually breathtaking forgotten eras. The cast is terrific, and there’s all the Italian mob blackmailing, shady cop bargaining, vintage car chases, bloodthirsty shootouts, femme fatales, gambling and drug dealing that we expect from the genre. It’s consistently entertaining, too – everything is in the right place, and yet Live by Night still misses the mark.
The film’s major setback is its narrative structure – or lack of one. From the opening act, there’s a sense of aimlessness, an absence of direction to where the plot and Affleck’s Joe Coughlin are headed, and very little to tie it all together. It feels almost better suited to a TV series, but it’s all been done better by Boardwalk Empire, and sadly, this marks the first less-than-great adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel
Live by Night still has plenty to enjoy, but it’s all too obvious that Affleck is stretching himself thin here in between his full-time job as Batman. Let’s hope he gives himself a break before his next directing effort.
Live By Night is available in Australian cinemas from January 26
Image courtesy of Roadshow Films