Live By Night movie review: Ben Affleck's directorial is a huge letdown; this is no Argo

Mihir Fadnavis

Jan,14 2017 11:17:30 IST

2/5

Having watched and loved Gone Baby Gone and The Town, and also quite enjoyed the flawed Argo, I was excited about Live By Night, the new directorial project from Ben Affleck. The film unfortunately is a bit of a let down, neither succeeding as a fun escapist entertaining action movie nor as a powerful drama.

Much like Gangster Squad from two years ago, Live By Night is all super style and design, but very little original substance. There is in fact a figment of an interesting movie buried deep within the uninvolving drama, but you only see intermittent flashes of it.

Affleck writes, directs and stars as Joe Coughlin, a thug in 1920’s Prohibition Era Boston who leads his gang of imbeciles to destroy and steal. He is pushed towards a life of crime because of his experience as a jaded World War 1 soldier.

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Ben Affleck in Live By Night. Youtube screen grab.

Things don’t look good when he falls in love with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller) who is unfortunately with Irish uber gangster Albert White (Robert Glenister) and is later blackmailed by an Italian Mafioso (Remo Girone). Coughlin soon finds himself embroiled with the Ku Klux Klan and political machinations, all leading to a big action heavy finale.

The film is adapted from a Denis Lehane book – considering the track record of films based on his oeuvre Live By Night should have been an interesting and exciting mainstream movie. The problem is the film often finds itself in overwrought dramatic narrative, full of soft whispering and tedious conversations. There isn’t really strong enough material in the story to not make the experience feel hackneyed and predictable.

Every beautifully produced scene, packed with gorgeous period production design and lighting is let down by the sheer mundaneness of the drama at play. Moreover we’ve seen a lot of the character dynamics before in other, better films.

The other big problem is the portrayal of Affleck’s character – which is supposed to be affected by the war – never really shows us the full effect of a good man turned evil. The character is too nice to full convey the idea of a man gone over to the dark side, which is a trait all to common in every single film directed by Affleck. You look at the CIA man in Argo, or the criminal in The Town and you’ll realize he can’t help but resort to turning grays into stark whites. In fact the film is at its best when Coughlin is doing terrible things – one wishes Affleck had the balls to go all out with the villainy instead of treading in safe anti-hero territory.

There’s a lot of ambition the film is going for – but in doing that Affleck doesn’t quite find the right balance between showcasing the montage of gangster’s greatest hits and the quieter intimate moments of his life. It also feels like there are too many plot threads getting entangled with each other and the film never really settles down to decide which part of the story it needs to clearly focus on.

The one bright spark is Chris Messina who plays Coughlin’s right hand man – his delivery of one liners, loony body language and solid screen presence makes you wonder why he doesn’t appear in lead roles, or at the very least, in more mainstream films.

Updated Date: Sep 21, 2017 12:57 PM