Live By Night: Film Review
Cast: Ben Affleck, Chris Cooper, Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Robert Glenister, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller
Director: Ben Affleck
For Ben Affleck's latest directorial outing after Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo, he heads to Boston and gangster land for an adaptation of a 2012 Dennis Lehane novel.
Affleck is small time two-bit robber Joe Coughlin, who finds himself in the middle of a mob war between the Irish and the Italians after the end of World War I. Having survived the Somme, Coughlin's got no desire to become another soldier in another fight, but finds himself slap bang in the middle of a war when he attracts the wrong sort of attention of Irish mob boss Albert White (Glenister, in an almost unrecognisable role.)
Escaping barely with his life, Coughlin relocates to Florida and allies himself with the Italian mob with the aim of getting back at White. Sent to the hotter climes and to run the rum business as well as advance the Italian mob's desires, Coughlin finds himself in the middle of another fight when the KKK comes calling and Prohibition continues to bite.
Despite all the elements being in place for a reasonably strong crime caper, Affleck's Live By Night fails to find any hint of life or energy to keep you engaged.
It's a problem from the muted start; and despite the attention to the period detail and some truly effective crime scenes, Affleck fails to hit any of the emotional highs that are necessary.
With a strong cast (Messina particularly impresses as Coughlin's Florida right hand man and Cooper's stoic work as the conflicted yet practical Sheriff) and the hint of a good story, nothing quite gels as it should. It's a shame as the premise is there - when was the last time you saw a gangster film in the Florida coast? But Affleck's character lacks any of the bite of a gangster or a man out for revenge - most of the film his expressionless and emotionless face merely spouts words and phrases; there's no heart and no fire in a moment of it, and the malaise is contagious.
It doesn't really help that Coughlin's so inherently a good guy (as witnessed by his continual wearing of white suits) when a bad guy's touch would have added more to the film.
Under-sketched characters don't add much either- Saldana's presented as a matriarch of the Rum industry in Florida and fades when her presence comes into Coughlin's shadow; and Miller's one-note turn at the start gives little edge either.
To be fair, it can't all be laid at Affleck's door; his eye brings a sutiably taut (if murky) final shoot-out and there are some truly wonderful vistas caught on camera.
But without the fire in the cinematic and narrative belly, Live By Night is left to flounder and wither on the vine. And that's a rum deal for all of us.