(2 / 5)
Ben Affleck has gone from Batman to The Accountant to bringing in the new year as the prohibition gangster, Joe Coughlin. He takes on the roles of director, lead actor and screen writer in this adaption of Dennis Lehane’s latest novel. This has been a partnership that has worked well in the past with Affleck’s adaptation of Gone Baby Gone. Can Affleck’s love for his hometown of Boston and the work of the celebrated novelist make for a winning combination for audiences?
The prohibition era has provided a wealth of story lines that include gangsters, corrupt police officers and the women that they love. Joe Coughlin served Europe during World War I and had his fill of needless killing, but his lifestyle choices on his return to the United States led him to a life of crime. Even with the influence of his police investigator father, Joe chooses to become a bank robber and gets involved with a gangland leader’s girlfriend, Emma Gould (Sienna Miller). These poor choices of career and love almost lead him to an early grave and cause him to lose the love of his life. After leaving the hospital and in an attempt to seek revenge for Emma, he comes into the service of rival Italian Mafia Maso Pescatore (Remo Girone). He takes over the operation of rum running in Florida for the Italian gangster and comes to love the sunshine state and finds his Cuban lover, Garciela (Zoe Saldana). The life of crime suits Joe and he eventually becomes the kingpin for the Mafia operation in Florida until he crosses paths with the local Ku Klux Klan and the daughter of the Tampa police chief.
The novels of Dennis Lehane have been the source for some of this era’s best directors. Being set in Boston, this storyline seems to be a natural fit for Affleck’s hometown passion, even though this a different timeframe for the accomplished director. He manages to capture the 1920’s and 1930’s era with the wardrobe and the cityscapes in Boston and Southern Florida. The wide screen cinematography captures the allure and beauty of the everglades of Florida. These visual elements are complemented by a stellar cast that surround Affleck in his latest directorial outing. Two of the stronger support cast memenrs are found in Brendan Gleeson (Calvery) and Chris Cooper (Demolition) who bring a credibility to the cast, but even these giants in the industry are overshadowed by Chris Messina (Argo) as the faithful sidekick, Dion Bartolo. The combination of the quality performances and the visual elements lift the artistry of Live by Night and Affleck’s directorial style, but they cannot make up for his attempt to do too much with one film.
The undoing of the film can be found in the attempt to cover three decades and the myriad of layers to Joe Coughlin’s life. Instead of remaining within one portion of the gangster’s life, Affleck attempts to take on all of the elements of the novel and it proves to be too much for one film to handle. The quality of the story gets watered down in the attempt to deliver every aspect of his life in Boston and Florida. This is exacerbated by the lack of romantic chemistry between Affleck and his two leading ladies. Miller and Saldana are excellent in their roles of women of dark pasts and they bring colourful elements to the gangster’s life. The women do not present the problem, the issue is found in Affleck’s acting style which fails to be convincing as the romantic lead in either of these relationships. Then with the inclusion of the overrated Elle Fanning (The Neon Demon) as the evangelist who leads to the downfall of Coughlin’s Florida crime empire things come undone for Affleck. His film has the potential to be a welcomed return to a by gone era of gangster films, but he takes this story from one of literature’s big guns and merely shoots blanks.
REEL DIALOGUE: What are some of the bigger questions to consider from this film?
What is the wisdom of a father? Joe Coughlin’s father in Live by Night was not a perfect man, but he had insights that would have kept him from much of the grief in his life. Wisdom is something all people seek, but many do not always follow. Earthly fathers can be a wealth of wisdom, but it can be flawed at times. For those seeking true wisdom in their lives, it can be found in the heart of the Bible. There are actual sections that are known as wisdom literature. Ancient literature that has applications in life today.
Where to find wisdom in the Bible: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs