Based on Dennis Lehane’s best-selling novel, Ben Affleck writes the screenplay, stars and directs in this idealistic drive-by back to the 1920s and Live by Night’s journey inside the lives, and loves, of gangsters. Affleck plays Joe Coughlin, an authentic WW1 veteran who after seeing the real hell of War, decided upon his return he’d always be an outlaw, even though his father Thomas (the ever admirable Brendan Gleeson) is the Boston Police Deputy Superintendent.
Affleck’s character Joe is drawn to the dark underworld because it’s the only time he feels that true justice, and what’s right, can come through. After a brief life of crime in Boston, he’s eventually caught and instead of being executed, thanks to his Father’s wide range of ‘information’ on important people, he’s thrown in prison for a few years. Time passes, his Father dies and upon release he finds a new perspective with criminality. Taking a job with Italian Mafia boss Pescatore (Remo Girone), he heads off to Tampa to run his rum empire for him. While there, things take radical turns through racial murders, the end of Prohibition and a move towards legalising gambling.
Despite roles for the likes of Gleeson, Sienna Miller, Chris Messina, Elle Fanning, Clarke Gregg, Zoe Saldana and Chris Cooper, it’s clearly Affleck’s Joe at the middle of everything and while it is his story, the minor development of other characters means attachment is hard to find. Stories of gangsters, revenge, passionate love, different factions and families fighting each other for prominence is always an intriguing possibility in Live By Night, and the film is perfectly moulded in the era and occasionally finds terrific scale, but it’s slightly lacking in connectivity and that’s maybe due to the similar, soft focus of what we’re watching, it’s all very clean.
Affleck, or Good Chuckie Mumbling as I sometimes like to call him, is practically solid but sometimes you feel he only fits a certain era or type of person and whereas I want to believe in him, I feel like he overplays his moody, tough guy with a good soul and it’s obviously a vital part to proceedings. In essence, Live by Night has some potent plans and despite grand sets and situations, it feels like we’ve seen much of it before.