Live by Night Movie Review
Ben Affleck the director has made three top-flight films, which means he was bound to miss the mark at some point. That point is now, as Live by Night is a craftily made but so-so gangster thriller that has its moments but fails to deliver consistent entertainment value.
Affleck, who also wrote the movie, stars as Joe Coughlin, a tough guy who doesn’t want to be a gangster but who is willing to work for them. With Prohibition well underway, Coughlin rises through the ranks, eyeing gambling as a means to supplement revenues earned through bootlegging.
The story is both the movie’s greatest strength and biggest weakness. Based on the novel by Dennis Lehane, the movie works in bursts, pulsing with streaks of violence while offset by sequences of downtime and character building. Live by Night stays clear of your typical Prohibition gangster film by deviating away from big cities and tommy guns and into South Florida and Cuba, emphasizing a mixed-race couple (Zoe Saldana plays Joe’s girlfriend) and featuring a protagonist who doesn’t have the same motivations or temperament as most Hollywood gangsters--at least until he does.
But as interesting as that concept is, in the end Live by Night just doesn’t hold your attention the way Affleck’s other directorial efforts have. While the action scenes are solid, Live by Night wants to be a drama--and the drama just isn’t very dramatic. Few of the characters, including Affleck’s, are particularly captivating, and you rarely care what happens to them.
Nonetheless, Live by Night isn’t without its entertainment value, and even though the movie never entirely clicks, Affleck’s directorial abilities hold things together. It isn’t a bad movie; it’s just a disappointing one given Affleck’s pedigree.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.