Live by Night

by | Jan 3, 2017 | 0 comments

A Gangster Flick That Doesn’t Come Out of the Shadow of the Betters of its Genre

Ben Affleck has been one of the most promising directors of this past decade; his last film, Argo won the Academy Award for Best Picture back in 2013. His return to the directorial chair comes with the gangster flick Live by Night.

Live by Night is the fictional story of Joey Coughlin (Ben Affleck), a small time thug in 1920s Boston who became a kingpin in Tampa Bay, Florida when he cracked into the rum contraband business. The film deals with the tense relations in the south with the incoming immigrants from the Caribbean and the white religious folks already established in the south. It certainly reminds us of some contemporary aspects of the world. 

The gangster genre is incredibly rich, but one could say that it has been overdone.  To make a good gangster flick, one has to go above already incredible precedents set by the likes of The Godfather or the milieu of films from Martin Scorcese. Even the best efforts of Ridley Scott in American Gangster, could only deliver so-so satisfaction to the genre’s spoiled audience. So Affleck’s ambitious and dangerous venture into the genre ends up giving us a pale film in comparison with its many predecessors. The film isn’t bad, but it’s not great either; it falls into a middle ground of somewhat forgettable flicks.

The problem with Live by Night could well be that Affleck chose to focus more on the events of his character rather than the actual persona of Coughlin. We never get too much emotional depth into Coughlin’s relationships with his father, friends, or love interests, Affleck seems to skim through these aspects and hopes the audience estimates more or less the impact they’re supposed to have.

And then there’s the dialogue. Most of it is actually very enjoyable, there are a few great lines in there, but some crucial moments in our character’s journey are sometimes dropped off-handedly in the middle of a conversation and quickly moved on from. If you’re not a sharp-eared viewer, or unable to understand Boston or Irish accents, you’ll have a hard time keeping up with who’s who and their motivations.

Affleck’s choice to star in the film also proves to be a bit of a blunder, he isn’t able to channel the complexity of emotions and identities that Coughlin deals with, and we end up with an incredibly suppressed performance that seems more like indifference.

But if there’s one thing that this film does different from other gangster flicks, it’s its beautiful costuming and scenery. There are some beautiful shots of the glades as well as 1930s urban Florida scenery. The technical aspects are all there, but without a much stronger narrative Live by Night risks staying in the shadows of much better films of its genre.  

  • OVERALL MOVIE RATING 54% 54%

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What is your favorite Ben Affleck movie? Let me know in the comments section.

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