Live By Night

Oscar winning writer and producer Ben Affleck’s fourth time behind the camera doesn’t produce anything new cinematically, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a nice ride. As mob and gangster films go, Live By Night, adapted from a Denis Lehane novel, is pretty standard. It has a lot in common with graphic novel Road to Perdition, also a major motion picture. Affleck has assembled an A-list team on screen and off, because at this point, he is one of the rare stars who works and functions like the big players of yesteryear. Affleck’s performance on screen is also its weakest element, which has become somewhat common of late. The plot and suspense does hinge on the unpredictable, which is a necessity for a movie like this to work.

On the streets of Boston Joe Coughlin (Affleck) was a small-time bank robber, making a living on petty cash. He was offered jobs on both the Italian and Irish mob sides of the street, which he refused. Joe had the bad misfortune, of falling in love with the wife of Irish Gang Boss Albert White (Glenister). Coughlin not only a criminal, but a cop killer, is spared a lengthy prison sentence thanks to his father (Gleeson), a high-ranking police official (Gleeson). Following a stint in prison, full of rage, Coughlin takes a deal with the Italian’s, running their operation in Tampa, and trampling on White’s neck of the business.  Coughlin becomes his own man, with his own crew and Boston decides they don’t need a third competitor sharing all the money down in Florida.

There’s a little more that works with Live by Night that doesn’t, and shooting on the Georgia coast is one of the highlights.

There’s a little more that works with Live by Night that doesn’t, and shooting on the Georgia coast (dubbing for 1930’s Tampa) is one of the highlights. Again playing the brooding anti-hero, Affleck has worked hard on every element for this film, a terrific supporting ensemble, but he forgot to write himself a better, more unique leading role. His work behind the camera is a different story all together. The guy certainly knows how to shoot and cut a car chase, as he proved in The Town and again here, but with vintage automobiles and tommy guns. Tarantino cinematographer Robert Richardson really brings this story to life with some memorable crane, drone, and wide shots that fill the screen with extraordinary flare. I did however find Harry Gregson-Williams (The Martian) score a bit thin, which mute some of the story’s more intense and emotional moments.

“You cannot fully live unless there is something for which you would die,” Graciella Suarez says. Live By Night juggles many themes: love, friendship, honor, morality and conscience. Affleck goes somewhat easy on the violence compared to other mob pictures, rarely to we see death in a close-up. There isn’t a particular segment of the two hour plus movie where you can predict the outcome. While the suspense of the story wains in and out, it’s constantly engaging mostly due to the supporting performances. It’s also inferior to Road to Perdition, another gangster film with conscience and morality in the forefront. Argo might have had similar flaws, but many of those were negated by the history and importance of that film, Live by Night is a quality driven, albeit standard mob thriller.

Final Thought

Solid bits but a standard gangster thriller, elevated by Affleck’s work behind the camera, but thwarted by his work in front.


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