A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.A group of Boston-bred gangsters set up shop in balmy Florida during the Prohibition era, facing off against the competition and the Ku Klux Klan.
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!
- Jan 11, 2017