Ben Affleck autopilots through period crime film

Lars Torres, Staff Reporter

Ben Affleck has been on an incredible roll with his directing career. From the excellent “Gone Baby Gone” to the Academy Award-winning “Argo,” Affleck has demonstrated his deft and absorbing abilities behind the camera as well as in front of it. This year starts off with a new effort from him, a period crime drama based on the novel “Live by Night” by Dennis Lehane, the same author who wrote the book on which “Gone Baby Gone” was based.   Affleck once again wrote, directed and starred in the picture, although the effect was slightly diminished this time around.

“Live by Night” follows bootlegger and outlaw Joseph “Joe” Coughlin (Affleck), the son of police Chief Thomas Coughlin (Brendan Gleeson), during Prohibition. Coughlin is considered a black sheep for not following in the footsteps of his father as a police officer.  Despite his criminal activity, Coughlin does not see himself as a “gangster,” but he is thrust into the fold when his affair with Emma Gould (Sienna Miller), the wife of powerful mobster Albert White (Robert Glenister), is discovered by the public.

Coughlin, with the assistance of his best friend and partner, Dion Bartolo (Chris Messina) decides to go make a living as a bootlegger and gambling mogul in Ybor City, Florida. During this time, he aims to destroy White’s reputation and businesses.

From a directing standpoint, Ben Affleck continues to shine above most. His keen eye for photography and shot composition get stronger with each film, especially in this work with cinematographer Robert Richardson. It is a beautiful film to look at. It is well-staged and blocked, especially with the film’s sparse but fantastic action sequences, including a well-made climax.  

Dialogue-wise, I believe that the film does have some great lines, although the film’s story does seem a little muddled when it comes to Coughlin’s revenge.  It does seem that the film’s plot does take a backseat for the visual splendor.  The acting was also great, particularly Elle Fanning’s in a major scene between her and Affleck at a diner about the sins they have committed. What I wished for was better chemistry between Affleck and Zoe Saldana, even if their scenes together were only momentary. Another problem was the disconnect I felt from Affleck’s character as he moved through his arc. It was only at the end of the film that the character resonated with me.

Overall, the film is a step-down from Affleck’s earlier works, but that does not mean it is without successes. It is a well-made film, beautifully shot, staged and acted, it just needed a stronger focus on story and better cohesion with character motivations. However, the film is still very watchable and moves at a great pace. It is still entertaining and, for the most part, Affleck has still crafted it with care.


Film: “Live by Night”

Directed by: Ben Affleck

Release Date: Jan. 13

Rating: 3.5 out of 5