Ben Affleck is back behind the camera once again with Live By Night. Set in the 1920’s during prohibition, the movie asks can a good man survive the bad around him.
After the critical praise lavished upon Ben Affleck’s for his previous directorial efforts, does he achieve something new and impressive with Live By Night? The answer, unfortunately, is no.
Set in America, just after World War One, as prohibition is in full swing, Live By Night sees Ben Affleck play Joseph “Joe” Coughlin. A dyed in the wool Bostonian who returns from the war scarred by what he saw and with only one thing on his mind, fortune. No longer willing to follow orders, Coughlin takes to a life of crime. A life that allows him to sleep all day but live by night!
Following his heart instead of his head. Coughlin becomes embroiled with the Irish and Italian mobs as they both attempt to rule bootlegging in Boston. A momentary lapse of judgment, fuelled by love, leads him deeper into the brewing animosities between the two mob factions.
Soon, he’s swapping the cold confines of Boston for the sweltering heat of Florida and a chance at love. However, his past threatens to catch up to him as his father (Brendan Gleeson) warns him that “what you put out into the world will always come back for you”.
There seems to be something about the prohibition era that seems to draw every great American director to it in hopes of creating hitting their directorial zenith. Movies like Miller’s Crossing, The Untouchables, Once Upon A Time In America, Some Like It Hot, & Road To Perdition have touched upon various aspects of that era already. So how does Live By Night match up to these classics? Well, not great.
Looking back over many of Ben Affleck’s most recent directorial efforts will bring a certain trend to light. Gone Baby Gone, Argo, and The Town all featured a strong supporting cast of great character actors who were used prominently throughout the course of the move.
Live By Night bucks this trend. Instead, deciding to focus on Affleck’s character who is, unfortunately, the least interesting part of the movie. Sure he’s our portal into the world of bootlegging, and the escalating war between the gangs trying to control it, but he’s not overly compelling.
Great character actors like Brendan Gleeson, Anthony Michael Hall, and Clark Gregg are introduced but gone too quickly. Chris Cooper’s character storyline is interesting but once again we don’t get to see enough of it.
On the other hand, we get too much of Zoe Saldana’s character. The major issue with this is that she isn’t fleshed out enough unlike say Rebecca Hall’s character in The Town. The one saving grace, SPOILER, is that Sienna Miller’s attempt at an Irish accent doesn’t take up too much screen time.
There are many more interesting topics raised in Live By Night. Including the KKK and the growing influence of religion during the Great Depression but these go by the wayside as the story progresses. In fact, the KKK storyline and the religious storylines were very interesting which makes it a shame that they were dropped so quickly.
Don’t get me wrong, this is a great looking movie. There are some fantastic sequences near the beginning of the movie. These include a car chase, climactic shootout showdown, and references to (what I presume are) real life violent events during prohibition. But the focus is on looking pretty instead of expanding plot points.
Affleck has proven already that he is a good director which makes you hope that Live By Night is a blip on his CV. Fingers crossed that we get something new and exciting from him in the future.