Live by Night – An Overambitious Crime Drama

Ben Affleck has had hit more that he has missed when it comes to directing films so I was excited to see his latest effort with Live by Night. This film marks the return to the work of author Dennis Lehane, the author behind Gone Baby Gone, the source of Affleck’s first directorial effort. The mostly bad reviews came as a surprise but they were unfortunately warranted.

Synopsis: Joe Coughlin, the son of a Boston police lieutenant, moves to Florida during the Prohibition era to become a bootlegger. As his operation grows, Coughlin faces off against local gangsters, Klansmen, and religious evangelicals while he fights for control of Tampa’s criminal underworld. (Rovi

Starring: Ben Affleck, Elle Fanning, and Chris Messina.

Writer: Ben Affleck

Director: Ben Affleck

Rating: R

Running Time: 128mins

Trailer: 

Affleck is getting up there in age (44 years old) and it kind of showed here as there was just something about him that just didn’t fit. From the set design, the costumes, and the cinematography, the film did a great job in creating the world of 1920s Boston and Tampa but it almost didn’t matter as it featured so many characters and so many moving parts that it made things difficult to follow and/or care about.

With these characters comes different subplots but the film poorly balanced them as some were unfulfilling and some were just dropped altogether. It was easy to not care about them as they received little to no development whatsoever. Other than a few big moments to advance the plot, most of the characters were relegated to the background. It just seemed like the film tried to do too much at times which caused the rest of it to suffer as a result.

This film moved quickly from Boston to Tampa as local, unwilling, gangster Joe Coughlin (Affleck) was out for revenge when his girlfriend Emma Gould (Sienna Miller) is supposedly killed by one of the local gang leaders Albert White (Robert Glenister). To get back at him, Coughlin moves to Tampa to work for a rival gang leader, Masco Pescatore (Remo Girone), in the rum trade. The tone of the film changes here as it shifted from a revenge story to a coming of age story of sorts.

Coughlin’s empire building was kind of fun to watch but there was nothing new here and the film did not offer much in terms of excitement. Coughlin, as a character, did not inspire excitement as he was a very serious character who lacked emotion. Coughlin’s partner, Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina), came off as a stereotype at times. Even with over 2 hours of running time, the pacing was off as some parts felt rushed and some felt too long, especially the end which felt off.

The acting was okay all around with Affleck surprisingly being the worst of the bunch. The script, which he also wrote, did no one any favors. Affleck never seemed to fit as Coughlin and it pretty much went downhill from there. His performance was more on the flat or wooden side as he brought very little in emotion. Messina was a stereotype but it wasn’t his fault. The plot focused heavily on male characters but Miller and Zoe Saldana as Coughlin’s love interests were good in limited screen time. Everybody else was good but they were just a means to a end, coming and going whenever necessary.

Overall, this was a decent, good-looking, crime film that tried to do too much which caused the rest of the film to suffer.

Score: 6/10

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One thought on “Live by Night – An Overambitious Crime Drama

  1. Yeah I definitely would say the ending is really clumsy. I kind of think Live by Night was made worse by that. Overall though I had a really good time with this. But it is absolutely a lesser gangster picture. Good review Keith!

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