Director / Screenwriter / Producer: Ben Affleck
Based on a novel written by: Dennis Lehane
Director of Photography: Robert Richardson
Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, Brendan Gleeson, Chris Messina, Sienna Miller, Zoe Saldana, Chris Cooper, Matthew Maher, Miguel J. Pimentel, Max Casella.
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is a man recently home from WWI. After seeing so much wasted bloodshed, he refuses to believe in a system that applies no value to the people it governs.
The son of Boston’s Deputy Superintendent, Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson), a good cop and a cop who loves his son, Joe goes about life without regard for the law. He robs banks and falls in love with a gangster’s Molly, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). Joe wants to be free. And he is free, until the Italian Mafia decide they want the Irishman on their side.
Live by Night isn’t one of those gangster revenge films full of sociopaths and relentless shoot-outs. This is a film shown beautifully through the authentic setting of those 1920s streets of Boston and the vast skies reflected in the snake-like curving rivers of Miami.
It took a while but I was eventually absorbed by this story based on a novel written by Dennis Lehane (winner of the 2013 Edgar Award for Best Novel of the Year). The screenplay written by Ben Affleck has the benefit of well-thought characters and a ring of truth about the era: Prohibition and the underground rum trade in Tampa, racism, the fight for the American Dream. But what is The Dream? Girls, money, power, love? Freedom?
There was a complexity here. This is a story about a man who wants to survive. But not at any price, not while there’s still a piece of heaven here on earth.
With an adaptation of a novel, it’s not easy to convey all without glossing over moments that would have been given more depth in the text. Although each character was portrayed so the fierceness, evil and beauty was shown in the dialogue, some extra seconds of those facial expressions would have conveyed more.
Offsetting the lack of depth was the beautiful camera work by Robert Richardson, giving access to the film through the depiction of setting.
I imagine it must have been difficult for Ben Affleck to act and direct in the same film. To be the one to portray what you have written, to show the vision of the story must be a hard task. And it shows. Ben being the least impressive actor in the film. I’m not saying his acting was bad, I’m just saying it wasn’t as believable as the performance of say, Sienna Miller or Matthew Maher (as RD Pruitt). Thankfully, the rest of the cast are phenomenal, given direction by the screenwriter, Ben. A headful, I know. And a hint into the space that is Ben Affleck. What an achievement.
Overall, Live by Night is one of those quiet movies that creeps up on you, a slow absorption into the point-of-view of Joe that doesn’t smack you in the face because that’s not in his psychological make-up: ‘I don’t want to be a gangster. I stopped kissing rings a long time ago.’
A sometimes bland film but a cracker of a story.