Overlong, overly familiar in places and achingly, misguidedly, earnest in others, Live by Night sees Ben Affleck almost single-handedly try to win the Prohibition-era alcohol trade, the love of two barely-sketched women, and racism. Returning as a director after his promising start (Gone Baby Gone, The Town, Argo), Affleck’s first major misstep as a filmmaker echoes the tone-deaf errors as an actor that seemed consigned to the distant past (Gigli, Jersey Girl et al).
Opening promisingly enough with Affleck’s WWI vet Joe Coughlin living life as a low level hoodlum in Boston, this Dennis Lehane adaptation comes across as being suitably familiar territory for both filmmaker and author. But when the film’s focus switches to Florida – much too far into Live by Night’s unnecessary two-hour-plus running time – things become a little unhinged. Not in the batshit crazy way that would have been welcome, although the moment in which Affleck strongly equates his Irishness with the plight of oppressed, enslaved ethnicities under The Man – because the white establishment will not bankroll one of his projects – is sniggeringly nuts.
No, the unhinging is a loss of footing, as the above suggests. And it all takes place amid the driest, least hot Florida ever committed to film. No-one sweats, nothing skews pulp – even when the subject matter hints at it – and nothing differentiates these soundstage sets from those standing in for Boston, except a touch of grading, and maybe crapper chroma key.
No-one in the talented, underutilised, cast gets in the way of Affleck either, as he clumsily navigates predictable plot developments through far too much hokey dialogue. White man with a heart of gold Coughlin may be, but boy, does he need to constantly remind us of it, whether taking on the Klan, religious orthodoxy, or ethnically exclusive gangs in increasingly patronising fashion. Doing so within confines familiar to Boardwalk Empire viewers, Elmore Leonard readers, or damn near anyone who’s seen a character rise up through the ranks of organised crime, only serves to hammer home the boredom.
‘Live by Night’ movie times