Affleck stars in and directs Live by Night; his homage to the great gangster films of the past, that unfortunately fails to join the ranks of the greats.
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is an army vet who’s decided to turn to a life of crime in order to fight the establishment. After joining forces with the Italian mafia in Boston, Coughlin is sent to set up shop in Miami, where he quickly becomes that town’s king of crime. His criminal activities and social circles irk the local Ku Klux Klan group, and he’s forced to take matters into his own hands when they get in the way of his business interests, with widespread consequences.
There’s a couple of love stories in the mix there also, that probably needed a bit more attention overall. There’s lots happening in Live by Night, and it suffers from trying to cover too much in such a short amount of time. Coughlin’s rise to the criminal underworld is spawned from a love-affair he has with the local crime boss’s girlfriend, and when things turn sour, it’s his love for her that pushes him over the edge to becoming a fully-fledged gangster, as opposed to being a reluctant, self-proclaimed outlaw. The circumstances of the affair however make the events that follow rather predictable, essentially making it harder to buy whatever Affleck and team are selling. Once that angle is pushed aside though, things get a bit more interesting.
Coughlin’s rise to the ranks of the Miami underworld is the most intriguing part of the film, mostly due to his interactions with the film’s colourful cast of supporting characters that include Miami’s Chief of Police, Chief Figgins (Chris Cooper), Ku Klux Klan member RD Pruitt (Matthew Maher, who steals a couple of scenes) and Loretta Figgis, the newly turned preacher set to throw a spanner in Coughlin’s works, played expertly here by Elle Fanning. These rich characters, amongst others in the large supporting cast add an extra dimension to the typically clichéd attributes we see in all of the classic gangster characters depicted in the film.
As a writer/director/star, Ben Affleck manages to juggle each task well enough to offer a solid entry into the gangster sub-genre of crime films. The screenplay falters a little bit due to a lack of tension in some parts, however he makes up for it with his direction and performance; it’s fair to say Live by Night will have you invested from start to finish, and Affleck is as charismatic as ever in this role. The conundrum being – there aren’t many characters to root for in this film. Affleck will have you engaged throughout the film, with it’s shiny colours and thrilling action, but by the end of it you won’t care who lives or dies.
Live by Night is Ben Affleck’s fourth directorial effort and a sound entry to his collection of films. This isn’t his best work, however it’s definitely up there on the entertainment front. The film is brutally violent, with some excellent action set-pieces and it’s stunning to look at. It probably won’t end up being the most memorable gangster film, though it does enough to fill the void until an eventual future masterpiece comes out of the genre.
Ben Affleck’s second time directing an adaptation of a Dennis Lehane novel. His first being Gone Baby Gone (2007).