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Boston, 1926. The '20s are roaring. Liquor is flowing, bullets are flying, and one man sets out to make his mark on the world. Prohibition has given rise to an endless network of underground distilleries, speakeasies, gangsters, and corrupt cops. Joe Coughlin, the youngest son of a prominent Boston police captain, has long since turned his back on his strict and proper upbringing. Now having graduated from a childhood of petty theft to a career in the pay of the city's most fearsome mobsters, Joe enjoys the spoils, thrills, and notoriety of being an outlaw. But life on the dark side carries a heavy price. In a time when ruthless men of ambition, armed with cash, illegal booze, and guns, battle for control, no one-neither family nor friend, enemy nor lover-can be trusted. Beyond money and power, even the threat of prison, one fate seems most likely for men like Joe: an early death. But until that day, he and his friends are determined to live life to the hilt. Joe embarks on a dizzying...Written by
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In 1917, I signed up to fight the Huns in France. Good men died all around me, and I saw no reason for it. The rules we lived by were lies. And they didn't apply to those who made them. I swore If I made it home, I would never follow orders again. I left a soldier, I came home an outlaw.
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The gangster conventions are there, just not the passion.
"Maybe it's true. We all find ourselves in lives we didn't expect. But what I learned was powerful men don't have to be cruel."Joe Coughlin (Ben Affleck)
Yet in the best of gangster, powerful men like Michael Corleone and Henry Hill are cruel, no matter how gentle their exteriors. So it seems with Joe Coughlin, a prohibition "bandit," as he calls himself, who doesn't think of himself as a gangster ("I don't wanna be a gangster. Stopped kissing rings a long time ago."). Yet he kills or has others killed in the name of moving toward heaven.
Although beautifully appointed and set in Florida and Cuba, writer/director Affleck's crime story misses the weight of crime films, which casually juxtapose the serious with the not so. It lacks the sass of Pulp Fiction and the gravitas of The Godfather with not much of their verbal gymnastics or irony.
Joe wanting to be a saint while being a sinner requires an actor of considerable resources, which Affleck showed a modicum of recently in the Accountant because it required him to be affectless. He brings that same stolid mien to this film and endangers the edge necessary for the success of actors like Al Pacino. Like Affleck, the film is listless except when Tommy Guns take charge.
As Joe navigates from a low-rent lover, Emma (Sienna Miller), to a classy love, Graciella (Zoe Saldana), director Affleck spends too much time on their embraces and too little on what makes him love them so passionately. He does love his own image as his abundance of self close-ups testifies. Maybe there is no passion, just old affectless Affleck.
It's dumping time in Hollywood, and Live by the Night is a classic example of why smart studios dump dull movies in January. It's not all that bad the way Joe is not all that bad. However, it just doesn't have the firepower to go against the big guns in the Oscar race. Remember the wild surprises and rich characters of the long-form Sopranos?
Maybe that's why the film gangster genre feels troubled here: The arch enemy, TV!
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