Live by Night
Out Now On-Demand
The American dream has a price.
Ben Affleck writes, directs and stars in this organised crime drama set in Prohibition-era Boston. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane (author of Gone Baby Gone, Mystic River and Shutter Island). Co-stars Zoe Saldana, Elle Fanning, Chris Cooper and Brendan Gleeson.
Taking fatherly advice is not in Joe Coughlin’s (Affleck) nature. Instead, the WWI vet is a self-proclaimed anti-establishment outlaw, despite being the son of the Boston Police Deputy Superintendent. Unlike the gangsters Joe refuses to work for, he has a sense of justice and an open heart, and both work against him — in business and in love. Driven by a need to right the wrongs committed against him and those close to him, Joe heads down a risky path that goes against his upbringing and his own moral code. Leaving the cold Boston winter behind, he and his reckless crew turn up the heat in Tampa. And while revenge may taste sweeter than the molasses that infuses every drop of illegal rum he runs, Joe will learn that it comes at a price.
- Ben Affleck (based on the novel by Dennis Lehane)
Rating: R16 Violence, offensive language & sex scenes
Overlong, overly familiar in places and achingly, misguidedly, earnest in others, Live By Night sees Ben Affleck almost single-handedly try to win the Prohibition-era alcohol trade, the love of two barely-sketched women, and racism. Returning as a director after his promising start (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo), Affleck’s first major misstep as a filmmaker echoes the tone-deaf errors as an actor that seemed consigned to the distant past (Gigli, Jersey Girl et al).
Opening promisingly enough with Affleck’s WWI vet Joe Coughlin living life as a low level hoodlum in Boston, this Dennis Lehane adaptation comes across as being suitably familiar territory for both filmmaker and author. But when the film’s focus switches to Florida - much too far into Live By Night’s unnecessary two-hour-plus running time - things become a little unhinged. Not in the batshit crazy way that would have been welcome, although the moment in which Affleck strongly equates his Irishness with the plight of oppressed, enslaved ethnicities under The Man - because the white establishment will not bankroll one of his projects - is sniggeringly nuts.
No, the unhinging is a loss of footing, as the above suggests. And it all takes place amid the driest, least hot Florida ever committed to film. No-one sweats, nothing skews pulp - even when the subject matter hints at it - and nothing differentiates these soundstage sets from those standing in for Boston, except a touch of grading, and maybe crapper chroma key.
No-one in the talented, underutilised, cast gets in the way of Affleck either, as he clumsily navigates predictable plot developments through far too much hokey dialogue. White man with a heart of gold Coughlin may be, but boy, does he need to constantly remind us of it, whether taking on the Klan, religious orthodoxy, or ethnically exclusive gangs in increasingly patronising fashion. Doing so within confines familiar to Boardwalk Empire viewers, Elmore Leonard readers, or damn near anyone who’s seen a character rise up through the ranks of organised crime, only serves to hammer home the boredom.
Los Angeles Times
New York Times
Total Film (UK)
The Guardian (UK)
Stuff.co.nz (James Croot)
I felt like sleeping, not living.
Wait, this was only 128 minutes long?! The finale was good but the 5 hours before that were simply terrible. The story had potential, but if you're gonna be the star of a big-budget film, I wouldn't recommend writing, producing and directing it as well.
A shallow, dull and dim-lighted tale; having vengeance as it's overarching theme.