Ben Affleck has proven himself to be a talented director in recent years with films such as Gone Baby Gone, The Town and Argo all enjoying critical acclaim. Unfortunately, Live By Night is unlikely to add to his list of directorial successes.
The film opens with the introduction of Joe Coughlin (Affleck). Disenchanted after WWI, he has no interest in taking orders or sides in the Italian/Irish mob conflict sweeping through 1930s Boston. However, after the death of his sweetheart Emma Gould (Sienna Miller) at the hands of Italian mob boss Albert White (Robert Glenister), Coughlin joins the Italian mob with the ultimate goal of becoming powerful enough to destroy his nemesis. He ends up being sent to Tampa, Florida to run the Cuban rum trade during the height of Prohibition, where he starts a relationship with Cuban businesswoman Graciela Sanchez (Zoe Saldana).
The KKK makes a memorable appearance, there’s a token incorruptible police chief, plus the religious fanaticism element that you’d expect to find in the South, but essentially what this adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s 2012 novel of the same name gives us is ‘gangster lite’.
The main issue with the film is that there are so many subplots and superfluous characters woven into the central narrative that it’s hard to tell what the main focus or conflict actually is. The fact that a narrator is required to explain developments in the story only reinforces this point. What’s more, just as one character seems to rise above the rest and become a significant player, they disappear off screen or are awkwardly killed off.
As a result, it’s hard to say that any of the characters are particularly endearing – not even Coughlin, who seems to want to convince the audience and himself that despite the rising body count, he is a benevolent protector of the people and is just doing what needs to be done until the real bad guys are run out of town.
Arguably, the most original aspect of the film is its setting. Seeing Coughlin and the Cubans packed into a speedboat and cruising through the Everglades makes for captivating viewing, but ultimately this change of scenery isn’t enough to dispel comparisons with genre greats like Gangs Of New York or The Sopranos.
Live By Night is in cinemas now.