Ben Affleck was the punch-line of so many jokes after 2003’s disaster Gigli. Affleck was able to resurrect his career by directing three fantastic films – Gone Baby Gone, The Town, and Argo.
Affleck is back behind the camera (and starring) in his new film Live By Night about a young man caught in the bootlegging life of the 1920’s and 30’s.
Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck) is the son of a police captain who can’t stay away from organized crime. After Joe’s fling with an Irish mobster’s mistress almost gets him killed, he works for an Italian mobster and moves to Ybor City, Tampa where he connects with a Cuban rum dealer – and hopes to get revenge on the man who tried to kill him.
Trying to explain Live By Night is difficult because there’s a lot going on. A lot. There’s Coughlin’s love triangle with Emma (Sienna Miller) and Albert White (Robert Glenister), Coughlin deciding to work for Precatore (Remo Girone), Coughlin working the Cubans, Coughlin running clubs in Tampa, Coughlin falling in love with Graciella (Zoe Saldana), and Coughlin trying to build a casino.
Live By Night soars when it introduces interesting points in Coughlin’s life. The worst part about Live By Night is its inability to spend time on any of these plot points. The story digs a little deep here and there, but not enough to make any of it interesting. There definitely isn’t enough to make audiences care about the characters or Coughlin’s relationship with them.
The film’s best sequence involves Coughlin having to deal with RD (Matthew Maher), a KKK member who’s shooting up and bombing Coughlin’s club. Unlike most storyline’s in the film, RD’s arc has a definitive beginning, middle, and end.
In contrast, there’s a bizarre storyline involving Sheriff Figgis’ daughter (played by Elle Fanning) and her drug addicted turn to evangelism. It’s a comically bad storyline that doesn’t fit in the film at all. Especially since the relationship between Coughlin and Figgis is barely explored.
Live By Night sounds like a great idea on paper, but is a film that’s much harder to execute that it looks. Affleck is still a solid director and showcases some beautiful visuals in the film. The film suffers from having too many storylines and not enough time to focus on characters to care about. There’s a good movie buried somewhere inside Live By Night. Affleck is a good enough director to find it, but unfortunately he couldn’t dig it out.