"Live By Night"
Release Date: Jan. 13, 2017
Running Time: 129 minutes
Ben Affleck knows Boston better than any director working today. His first two films, Gone Baby Gone and The Town, took us inside a Boston only one of its own would know. With Boston not a factor in his Oscar-winning Argo, Affleck returns to his hometown with Live By Night, his second adaptation of a novel by Dennis Lehane following his directorial debut, Gone Baby Baby. Live By Night, though, is more of a spiritual successor to The Town. Both focus on Beantown bad guys with a strong set of values and principles that distinguishes them from other Beantown bad guys. The only difference is, the criminal of Live By Night manages to escape the harsh streets of Boston. Affleck takes on the role of World War One veteran Joe Coughlin, a self-described “bandit” and a disappointment to his police detective father (Brendan Gleeson). Coughlin wants no part of the war between the Irish and Italian mobs, but ends up going to work for the latter to exact revenge against the leader of the former. With Prohibition in full swing, the Italians send Coughlin down to sunny Florida to oversee its rum business in Tampa’s racially mixed party district, Ybor City. Other than its seemingly bright and laidback locale, Live By Night separates itself from your typical Prohibition-era gangster opus because of the adversaries Coughlin face: the Ku Klux Klan, who don’t take too kindly to Catholics and people of color and Evangelical Christians, who don’t want gamblers turning Tampa into a den of iniquity. While Coughlin goes to war against the Klan, affording Affleck the opportunity to deliver a few pithy lines of dialogue that speaks to our current political and racial climate, Coughlin finds himself unable to take down a female preacher without staring deep down into his own soul. Coughlin has a conscience, which makes him the worst kind of mobster: one who can’t kill an innocent in the name of business. Live By Night isn’t consumed with questions of faith, but it does draw upon Catholic guilt and Protestant ethics to create much of the inner turmoil that grips Coughlin. Affleck articulates this with a heavy broodiness that rarely subsides, even when Coughlin appears to on top of the world. The women in Coughlin also give him pause for thought. Sienna Miller makes the best of a throwaway role as the plucky mob moll whose illicit romance with Coughlin leads him down a path he never wanted to tread. Filled with wisdom and compassion, Zoe Saldana’s rum smuggler serves to give Coughlin peace of mind, but his relationship with her also puts him in a position of physical and emotional vulnerability. But it is Elle Fanning who puts Coughlin on edge. Fanning exudes an unwavering dedication in her devout Christian’s religious beliefs that it is not surprising that she is able to either disarm or unnerve the liberal-minded Coughlin as necessary. All this leaves you wondering whether Coughlin has what it takes to protect for he has built not just for others but for himself. It’s a question that hangs over Live By Night like a dark cloud over Florida on a summer afternoon. Affleck creates such doubts about Coughlin that even up to Live By Night’s climax it’s hard to predict whether Coughlin is going to accept or rebel against the fate determined for him by his superiors. While Live By Night plods too much while times are good for Coughlin in Tampa, Affleck makes up for it with some shootouts and car chases that are staged in conventional but nevertheless riveting fashion. Live By Night certainly isn’t Affleck’s finest hour as a director. It doesn’t possess the beauty or eloquence of a Coppola or Scorsese mob opera. Nor is it by any means a step backward for an actor who revived his career by stepping behind the cameras. It just happens to be the first Affleck directorial effort that isn’t essential viewing.
Aired: Jan. 12, 2017
Web site: http://www.livebynight.movie