Ben Affleck not only has the leading role in Live By Night but he also produced and directed it and adapted it from the Dennis Lehane novel of the same name.
He plays Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police captain (Brendan Gleeson), who runs small-time rackets in the Boston area with his sidekick Dion (Chris Messina). He gets caught up in the Irish vs. Italian gang war when he falls in love with Emma (Sienna Miller), the mistress of Irish boss Alfred White (Robert Glenister).
After a stint in jail, he gets revenge on White by teaming up with his Italian rival Maso Pescatore (Remo Garone), who appoints him to run his rum operation in Ybor City in Florida and take down White’s.
The film follows his years in 1920s Florida, from meeting his ‘wife’ Graciella (Zoe Saldana), to taking on members of the Ku Klux Klan, who target his businesses, and his fight against popular Christian preacher Loretta (Elle Fanning), who is stopping him from overturning gambling laws so he can open a casino.
The film looks visually stunning with beautiful period sets, costumes and styling and its story is entertaining enough, with plenty of shootouts and car chases to keep viewers interested.
Live By Night is violent, ruthless and bloody. A lot of people die in cold, heartless ways and it can be quite shocking. Luckily, there are some funny moments that lighten the mood a little thanks to Messina, with Dion doing Joe’s killing so he doesn’t get his hands dirty.
Affleck proved he could act and direct with the Oscar-winning Argo and doubled up as writer and actor with Good Will Hunting, but with Live By Night, it feels like he has taken on too much and spread himself too thin.
The writing wasn’t as strong as his previous efforts and Coughlin felt like every other gangster we’ve seen on screen before. Affleck’s performance was also pretty average and he was outshone by his supporting actors, even if they weren’t given much to do. The women end up with a raw deal and were either depicted as love interests or bargaining chips. For this reason, it was hard to care for any of the characters and whether they lived or died.
Live By Night is enjoyable enough but is instantly forgettable and doesn’t hold up when compared to classics of the gangster genre.
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